The Australian government is facing renewed backlash from politicians in New Zealand after a minor was deported under the controversial 501 scheme.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she is seeking more information from the Australian government after Stuff.co.nz on Monday revealed that a 15-year-old boy had been deported under the program.
In a press conference, Ms Ardern confirmed that one of the people deported under the scheme earlier this month was under the age of 18.
“I’ve only just become aware that … within the group of 501s that we had returned recently that there was what we would consider to be a minor in that group,” she said.
“Of course we would have an expectation that regardless of the background that we do treat minors in a particular way when we’re dealing with deportation.”
Ms Ardern also reiterated that New Zealand had “never agreed with the policy”.
She said she had not spoken to Prime Minister Scott Morrison about the teenager’s deportation.
“He knows my position on the deportation policy,” she said. “So actually regardless of whether or not we’re dealing with a minor or someone who’s older, I have a specific objection to the fact that we have people being deported from Australia who we consider to be Australians.”
The boy was deported alone, and it’s understood he is the first minor to be sent back under the scheme.
Under current Australian laws, visa holders who are sentenced to at least 12 months in jail face mandatory deportation. For New Zealand citizens who have spent the majority of their lives in Australia, however, the practice can see them returned to a country they have little connection to.
The New Zealand government has repeatedly criticised Australia for deporting New Zealand citizens after they complete their jail terms in Australia, with Ms Ardern accusing Australia of deporting their problems.
The Australian government has drawn a backlash from New Zealand politicians over the minor’s deportation.
National’s foreign affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee said the case sounded “pretty appalling”.
“If the young child has family support here that is stronger than in Australia that might be understandable, but if it is just a case of ‘here is an offender, we want him out’ and so he is off on the next plane to New Zealand, that is a different matter,” he said.
Green Party Foreign Affairs spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said Australia had treated the minor “in absolutely the worst way”, adding that the deportation risked putting Australia’s relationship with New Zealand in jeopardy.
“They need to know they are now damaging their relationship with us, that being a traditional ally and trading partner doesn’t mean that we will continue to be an ally and partner to them as they treat us with absolute disdain in this way,” she told RNZ National on Tuesday.
She also said Australia was an “outlier” in deporting the teenager, urging Australia to “start behaving like a good global citizen”.
“It’s not something that nations who do have a rule of law and a commitment to human rights are doing,” Ms Ghahraman said.
“It is time for all what we call like-minded nations to recognise that Australia is actually behaving like a rogue nation, as we call countries who very consistently flout human rights laws, and raise this in our international forums, have our allies join together with us to condemn this and put pressure on Australia to start behaving like a good global citizen.”
It comes after Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton was accused of “trashing his reputation” after referring to the deportations as “taking the trash out”.
Mr Dutton made the remark in a Channel Nine news segment that aired last week, in which reporters were given access to individuals being deported from Australia to New Zealand on character grounds.
“It’s taking the trash out. Then we can make Australia a safer place,” he said during the segment.
“We’re talking about the most serious offenders here and our country is safer for having deported them.”
The minister’s comments sparked a backlash, with New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta saying his comment “only serves to trash his own reputation”.
“They should reflect on how they portray the transfer of people back to New Zealand, but again, Dutton’s comments only serve to trash his own reputation,” she said.
In a statement to SBS News, the Department of Home Affairs said it “does not comment on individual cases”.
“A non-citizen’s visa must be cancelled if they are serving a full-time term of imprisonment for an offence committed in Australia and they have, at any time, been sentenced to a period of 12 months or more imprisonment, regardless of their age or nationality,” it said.
“The Australian Government takes seriously its responsibility to protect the Australian community from the risk of harm posed by foreign nationals who engage in criminal conduct.
“The Department approaches visa cancellation of minors with a high degree of caution and consultation, to ensure all relevant factors are considered and the approach is consistent with community and Government expectations.
“The Department complies with its legal obligations in circumstances where the removal of a minor is considered, including those under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
New Zealand’s Ministry for Children, Oranga Tamariki, told SBS News the individual was being supported by the country’s authorities.
“Oranga Tamariki has been working extensively with the relevant authorities in both Australia and New Zealand to support this young person’s arrival into New Zealand,” it said in a statement.
“He is currently in a Managed Isolation Facility and receiving support while undertaking quarantine.
“Due to this young person’s age and privacy considerations it would be inappropriate to comment further.”