Kiwis in Australia living in virtual hiding

Kiwis in Australia living in virtual hiding

Imagine waiting for that knock on the door for someone to tell you it's time to pack up your entire life.

Leave your children behind and return to a country you've never called home.

That's the experience of potentially thousands of Kiwis living in Australia right now.

These are people who have committed crimes, perhaps a long time ago and they've moved on.

But Australia has not.

A new law means anyone who has ever been sentenced to 12 months or more in prison has their right to live in Australia revoked.

That includes suspended sentences.

Under its new law changes, these now law-abiding residents feel like they are being villainised again.

Story went to Australia and spent weeks trying to track these people down, but many were reluctant to talk. Story managed to meet Hannah (not her real name).

Hannah is married with two sons. She has just bought a house and owns a business.

She spent 18 months in prison for stealing $100,000 from her work. She says she's cured of the gambling addiction which drove her to crime.

"I'm being lumped in with murderers and rapists."

Eight years on, Hannah is being punished a second time.

"If the border police turn up and say 'that's it you're an illegal immigrant', off I go to a detention centre and that's it."

Hannah says she now avoids going out of the house and will change her route if she sees a police car ahead.

"It's very very hard some days to even get out of bed and do anything because you look at it and think, what's the point? But I have to fight that because of my family and because of my children."

The sheer size of Australia and the opportunities it brings are huge drawcards for New Zealanders. In fact at last count some 650,000 Kiwis are calling this place home. Most of them keep their noses clean but it's thought around 5000 are living with criminal convictions.

Of those 5000, 1000 are facing deportation and 200 are being held in detention centres.

Lawyer Zeke Bentley has Kiwi clients in hiding and says some are being told they can appeal against deportation, while others are being kept in the dark.

"Australian Federal Police are knocking on doors, going in, taking people and taking them to detention centres for quick deportation. They're not even being given that basic procedural fairness."

Hannah believes the people and the governments are painting too simple a picture.

"We've worked our guts out, paid our taxes and we haven't been a drain on the state. Why am I suddenly such a horrible and undesirable person? I understand the very serious crimes. I understand that there are people who deserve to be deported. But for the rest of us who have made a mistake - we do deserve a second chance."