WELLINGTON, Oct 17, 2015:
Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Saturday sought to soothe friction with Wellington over the plight of hundreds of New Zealanders held in Australian detention centres or facing deportation under tough immigration laws.
On his first visit to neighbouring New Zealand as Prime Minister, Turnbull said there would be no change in the law but promised a faster appeal process.
Media reports say 160 New Zealanders have been deported this year, with 196 in immigration detention – including some held at an Australian facility on Christmas island in the Indian Ocean – and up to 1,000 facing the prospect of deportation.
Under the immigration laws aimed at boosting national security and stopping asylum seekers arriving by boat, Australia has set up offshore detention camps on Christmas Island and on the South Pacific nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
“The number of New Zealanders whose visas will be revoked has been high because the law came in at the end of last year and there has been in effect a backlog,” he told a media briefing in Auckland after holding talks with his New Zealand counterpart John Key.
“So those numbers will decline and settle at a relative low number going forward,” said Turnbull, who last month toppled former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in a party-room coup to become Australia’s fourth leader in just two years.
Laws introduced late last year meant that residents in Australia can have their visas cancelled if they commit a crime serious enough to attract a penalty of 12-months imprisonment or more. Without a valid visa, residents usually end up in detention, before being deported.
There are more than half a million New Zealand citizens living in Australia and many have been there most of their lives.
The two countries traditionally have close relations but Key said he had a frank discussion with Turnbull over the issue of detentions.