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Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton (image via en.wikipedia.org).

Deportations of New Zealand citizens convicted or simply accused of crimes in Australia, but with no genuine connection to their country of citizenship, have become commonplace in the activities of the Home Affairs Department.

This really is of another order. 

It is not something that has impressed New Zealand Justice Minister, Andrew Little, and his comments of concern have been treated as the utterings of an emotional crank: 

“Look, it might suit Aussie politics and it seems to me there is a venal political strain to all of this.”

For Little, this type of politics jarred with an old relationship and was “certainly not consistent with any humanitarian ideals that I thought both countries shared”. It certainly was not in the best traditions of neighbourly relations. Australian politicians were hiding “behind that political calculus and I think that political calculus is venal”.

There is every reason Little should feel cranky about New Zealand’s stony neighbour, hardened by years of a brutal consensus on how best to treat “irregular” arrivals heading to Australia. Australia has shown rather less than any fraternal warmth to its neighbour for some years. Its governments have interfered, tampered and mocked the immigration policies of that small state. The rights of New Zealand are being abridged with gradual but certain consistency. Its citizens are being detained for good lengths of time without charge, after which they face deportation. And the numbers of deportations have risen with a striking callousness.

Peter Dutton’s thuggish enthusiasm as overlord of the Home Affairs Department has taken various forms, though they always bark from the summit of self-righteous protection. He is the "guardian" of Australian society and intends to do all he needs to fulfil his remit. Every action is premised on buffering Australia from the next social virus (the term used here is “character”): the next improper individual arriving by sea. 

The response to New Zealand is a common excuse for brutes: we are doing what you should be, so let us get on with it. The rough creature in the school sandpit will always take issue with his victim’s lack of interest in helping him. 

Dutton explained on the home of Australian reaction and domestic bluster, Radio 2GB:

“There’s a lot that we do for New Zealand ... New Zealand don’t [sic] contribute really anything to the defence effort that we’ve got, where we’re trying to surveil boats that might be on their way to New Zealand.” 

This view is a challenge: appreciate our cruelty in your name.

Dutton has also insisted that the New Zealanders are simply fussing too much, ignorant of the simple fact that the guilty, as presumed by the Australian state, should be expelled:

"We just need to see the evidence instead of the emotions. They’re New Zealand citizens, they’re not Australian citizens. And there’s no breach of human rights.” 

Such is the imagination or its lack, that marks the thought of a person who believes that rewriting the Migration Act in the name of domestic politics makes it a legitimate fact, separate from international law.

A set of nasty instances of Australia’s immigration policy to New Zealanders have involved the deportation of youths and a range of others who fall foul of the vague test of character Australian migration officials hold so dear. Little’s point is pertinent, describing such a test as “very nebulous, very airy fairy and could be used for all sorts of things”; on a “human rights basis” that was simply “not right”. A startled deportee Ko Happu noted how he did not even have criminal charges to his name “but was still treated as a prisoner who has committed a crime.”

Australia’s national broadcaster took enough interest in the dark matter to dedicate a half-hour program to the issue titled, Don’t Call Australia Home!', hosted by former Australian rugby player Peter FitzSimons.

It begins:

"Australia is detaining, cuffing and deporting more New Zealanders than any other group."

The number stands at 1,300 over three years and the legal fraternity is wondering if that number might reach 15,000 over the next ten years.

A dismal thing in Australia’s approach to this particular group of New Zealand citizens is reminiscent of its policies to irregular arrivals who find their lives caged in offshore processing centres in Nauru and Manus Island. These sea arrivals violated the dictates of Australia’s draconian Migration Act, even if they were perfectly entitled to follow the wise, and in the main logical dispensations offered by the United Nations Refugee Convention. The New Zealanders who challenge the Home Affairs department find themselves in a detention facility, kept without trial. 

The situation between the countries has impelled Bryce Edwards to wonder in the National Business Review if this “unprecedented” decline in the relationship suggests that relations are irreparable. Certainly, the relationship is dying. But this is as much a case of differing relations as opposed to differing views. 

Australia remains a reactionary, unreflecting annexe of U.S. power, with a pathology against asylum seekers and refugees who do not follow "appropriate" channels; New Zealand has never been troubled by its relative insignificance on the international stage, punching firmly above its feathery weight. Separate ways they go, as they will continue to do.  

Dr Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. You can follow Binoy on Twitter @bkampmark.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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