Call for UN to probe Australia's tough deportation laws

Parliament is being urged to raise alleged Australian human rights abuses with the United Nations. 

Human rights advocates say it's time for Australia's severe detention centres and deportation laws to get global attention. 

Community Law chief executive Sue Moroney says proposed new legislation in Australia which would expand its already wide-ranging deportation criteria cannot go ahead.

"That Bill will make things even worse than they are now. It will capture a whole series of new people who can have their visas cancelled for minor crimes."

Under changes to Australian law made in 2014, foreigners can be deported if they're "a risk to the health, safety or good order of the Australian community" or "not of good character". Since then, around 1700 people have been deported to New Zealand, some who have never lived here or committed any crimes.

Australian lawmakers are now considering the Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test) Bill, which has been passed by the House of Representatives and is now before the Senate.

"Under existing laws, the Department of Home Affairs must cancel visas when a non-citizen is jailed for at least a year," according to the New Zealand Law Society. "The new legislation would enable deportation of someone who was convicted of a designated offence but not necessarily jailed."

David Coleman, Australia's Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, said last year it "presents a very clear message to all non-citizens that the Australian community has no tolerance for foreign nationals who have been convicted of such crimes".

New Zealand's Community Law and the Human Rights Commission have joined forces to call on the Government to pressure Australia to ease up. 

At a hui earlier this week, they heard "heart-breaking stories from New Zealanders in Australia's detention centres and those who have been deported".

Chief human rights commissioner Paul Hunt said the deported are "disproportionately Māori, Pacific people, and ethnic minorities".

"The issue has a strong race discrimination component. The discrimination begins in Australia and impacts on New Zealand. The impact is most keenly felt by the individuals. Not only are they demeaned by discrimination, many of them lose everything: children, partners, parents, jobs, businesses, friends and a sense of belonging. They languish in appalling detention centres.

"On this tragic journey, some self-harm, others commit suicide. Many are deeply alienated, alone and angry. So, the race discrimination undermines our attempts to build an inclusive society on this side of the Tasman."

Sue Moroney.
Sue Moroney. Photo credit: Sue Moroney/Facebook

Moroney, a former Labour MP, wants the Government to lay a case in front of the United Nations. She says Kiwi deportees need a punishment that fits their crime if they've committed one.

"At the moment it's disproportionate because if they're New Zealand citizens they serve their six months in jail for their minor misdemeanour, then they can have their visa cancelled."

Australia appears before the United Nations later this year. 

"I feel confident that most Australians, if they knew the extent of what was happening, would feel ashamed and embarrassed by the cruel policies of their own government," said Moroney.