New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern has again criticised the Australian government’s policy of deporting noncitizens on “character grounds”. But, this time her words were sterner, as she warned of the “corrosive” effect it’s having upon the relationship between the nations over time.

At a press conference with Scott Morrison in Auckland last Friday, Ardern said that New Zealanders can understand deporting newly arrived noncitizens who commit crimes, but they take “a dim view of the deportation of people who move to Australia as children and have grown up there”.

In December 2014, the Coalition amended the Migration Act 1958 (Cth), which has meant more noncitizens have been turfed out of the country, often for committing petty crimes. And the majority of the more than 4,000 deportees have been Kiwis, many whom had been here most of their lives.

In response to a question from the press as to why Australia is deporting Kiwis with no real ties to New Zealand, a slightly ruffled looking Australian prime minister said, his country “has very well-defined immigration and citizenship laws”, and further, “visas are not citizenship”.

However, Morrison neglected to mention that not only has the Liberal Nationals government enacted laws that have meant long-term New Zealand residents have been driven out in droves, but changes to visa laws back in 2001 have made it almost impossible for most Kiwis to become citizens.

The usual tough on borders rhetoric

“It was good to see PM Ardern stand firm on Friday regarding the deportations,” said Joanne Cox media liaison for OZ Kiwi: the peak body dealing with the issues affecting the rights of New Zealanders residing in Australia.

Ms Cox explained that Ms Ardern was reiterating comments that former NZ high commissioner to Australia Chris Seed had made to the Joint Standing Committee on Migration inquiry into visa cancellations made on criminal grounds in September last year.

Mr Seed told the committee that since 2014 the number of New Zealanders being deported from Australia has “skyrocketed” from around one a week to more than one a day. And he stressed that policy changes in 2001 and 2014 had left Kiwis “significantly more vulnerable”.

“Morrison has maintained his hard-line approach from his time in the immigration portfolio,” Ms Cox told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. She said his current “tough on borders” stance is “another example of overkill” being fanned by his “comments and actions on the medevac bill”.

“It is scaremongering,” Ms Cox added in relation to comments by the PM about Kiwis deportees having committed serious violent and sexual crimes, “when large numbers have committed none of those offences”, but have rather been deported for petty crimes, such as drug offences.

Laws to turf more out

Passed in November 2014, the Migration Amendment (Character and General Visa Cancellation) Bill amended section 501 of the Migration Act, so a noncitizen is automatically deported for any number of sentences amounting to 12 months or more.

This applied retrospectively and was down from the previous 24 months required for deportation. The same section was also changed so that a noncitizen can be deported without a conviction if the minister suspects on reasonable grounds, that they have some association with criminal activity.

“Regardless of the intent, the effect is that a number of petty criminals have been deported for crimes that do not warrant it,” Ms Cox explained. It’s “double jeopardy where the individual has served their sentence then is punished again with deportation”.

The Liberal Nationals government is further seeking to strengthen the section 501 laws so that a noncitizen – including minors – can be deported for being convicted of a crime that carries a maximum penalty of two years gaol time, regardless of the sentence that’s actually imposed.

Section 116 of the Act was amended as well, so as to clarify that the visa of a noncitizen can be cancelled not only if the minister is satisfied an individual poses an actual risk to “good order,” but also if an individual could possibly pose a risk.

Waiting for deportation

Since the amendments came into play visa cancellations on character grounds have increased by over 1,400 percent, according the Home Affairs Department. Over the last financial year, 907 people were deported on these grounds, with 50 percent – or 453 individuals – being Kiwis.

The latest immigration detention figures from December last year reveal that New Zealanders are the largest nationality group in onshore detention. And beside a brief lull between September and November last year, Kiwis have been the largest cohort in immigration detention since June 2016.

Last month, a hunger strike took place in immigration detention centres across the country, with a large number of participating detainees being Kiwis, who were protesting against inhumane conditions, long wait times and being held in centres far away from their families.

Blocking citizenship

And it’s not as if all these New Zealander residents have simply chosen to remain noncitizens. Changes made to the law back in February 2001 mean that Kiwis moving across the ditch are denied citizenship, unless they gain a difficult-to-obtain skill-based permanent visa.

And although, Kiwis might be long-term residents of Australia, they’re visas remain temporary. This has led to a situation where over 50 percent of migrants from other countries become Australian citizens, whereas less than 10 percent of New Zealanders do.

Shirking responsibility

“Oz Kiwi maintains that the cumulative and retrospective nature of the section 501 amendment has been detrimental to New Zealander long-term residents,” Ms Cox went on, “and this group is unique in that they may reside indefinitely without the need to get permanent residency or citizenship.”

Ms Cox attended the parliamentary committee on visa cancellations last year. She pointed to a recommendation set out in its report released last week, which asserts that the historical special immigration status of New Zealanders should be recognised when reviewing character cancellations.

“Morrison might say the 2014 reforms are not targeted at New Zealanders, however over 50 percent of those deported are Kiwis,” Ms Cox made clear.

“The impact of the section 501 changes has had an enormous impact on Trans-Tasman relations. And those who have lived in Australia for many years should be Australia’s problem not New Zealand’s,” she concluded.