Up to 5000 convicts could be deported to NZ – lawyer

Up to 5000 convicts could be deported to NZ – lawyer

A legal expert says New Zealand should expect thousands of criminals convicted in Australia to pour back into the country.

The president of the Australian Lawyers Alliance says 5000 New Zealanders have been jailed in Australia in the past 10 years, and the majority could be deported back here.

It's thought up to 75 Kiwis are currently calling Christmas Island home – a tiny island off the coast of Indonesia, and the symbol of Australian immigration policy.

New Zealander Tukaha Whakatutu has no idea why he was moved there from Sydney in July after serving four years for arson.

"There was no explanation for it, they couldn't give me an explanation they just said it was an operational decision," he says. "What gives you the right to send me miles away from my family? I haven't seen my family."

Whakatutu says Christmas Island is filling up fast with Kiwis, and the conditions are getting worse.

"They're running out of food. When they serve the food out for lunch and dinner the people at the end of the line aren't getting fed. They're just not providing enough."

Nearly 200 New Zealanders are being held indefinitely in Australian detention centres after tough new visa rules were introduced in December. It means anyone who is not an Australian citizen who has served more than 12 months in prison in their lifetime can be deported.

"Many New Zealanders who have come to Australia have been here for many, many years," says Greg Barns of the Australian Lawyers Alliance. "I've acted for some who've been here 30 or 40 years; they have no connection with New Zealand."

Mr Barns says about 1500 New Zealanders are currently in Australian jails.

He estimates the majority of those could be sent back to New Zealand under the new law. 

But even after weeks of mounting pressure on both governments, there's been little traction.

"It's a matter where Australia has got to make its own policies but they will take into consideration any representations we make," says Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully.

All detainees 3 News spoke to say languishing in detention centres is like being punished twice.

"Why can't they go through this process while I'm on parole with my family? That way I can prepare them if I do get deported," says Whakatutu. "Okay, that's fine, put me on a plane and send me, but at least I'll have time to prepare my family."

It's especially tough when they have no idea how long they'll have to wait.

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