Hardening stance on 501 deportees 'devastating'

Christopher Luxon (left) has criticised the changes by Anthony Albanese government. Photo: RNZ
Christopher Luxon (left) has criticised the changes by Anthony Albanese government. Photo: RNZ

By Jessie Chiang

A woman facing possible deportation from Australia says it is "devastating" the country is hardening its stance on people like her.

In 2022, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese promised his government would stop deporting people with criminal histories who had spent most of their lives in Australia, but were New Zealand-born and unable to become Australian citizens.

But a new directive from Australia's Immigration Minister Andrew Giles announced on Friday effectively reneged on that promise, stripping back the directive to give more weight to a person's ties to Australia before deporting them.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has criticised the move, saying the changes are wrong.

Haley Rukuwai was just six when she moved with her parents across the Tasman from New Zealand. She has now spent 35 years in Australia and all of her close family - including her children, who have Australian citizenship - live there.

Rukuwai is currently being held in a detention centre after serving 16 months in prison for a range of charges, including possession of drugs, breaches of bail, driving while disqualified, failure to appear, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and breach of a domestic violence order.

Her offending occurred after a relationship breakdown, she said.

"My marriage broke up, we separated and the divorce was just really ugly, custody battles... and I guess I didn't cope."

She started using drugs, eventually lost custody of her children and became homeless.

Rukuwai said the breach of domestic violence was the result of a text message she sent her ex-husband after her child returned from a weekend with him with a bite mark, bruise and story of being neglected.

"I was obviously mad and threatened to do harm if it ever happened again. While I was just letting off steam, it was used against me and I suffered for it.

"I hate to seem like I'm trying to downplay the seriousness of domestic violence because I do not condone it and was an actual victim of it myself, but I think the way it was used against me was far too harsh."

She has been in the detention centre, waiting to hear whether she will be deported, since December 2021.

"I've been in detention longer than my entire jail sentence, when does this end? It's hard to be in here and doing everything you can, which is not a lot, to show that you deserve a second chance," she said.

Albanese's promise to stop deporting people like her had been "a glimmer of hope", she said.

The news announced on Friday was "devastating".

"For that to be taken away, it's like, 'Oh my god', it doesn't look good. It's destroying lives, it's destroying families and we're all suffering."

Filipa Payne from Route 501. Photo: RNZ
Filipa Payne from Route 501. Photo: RNZ

'A political move'

Filipa Payne, from the advocacy group Route 501, has slammed the Australian government's decision, calling it "a political move".

There were people in detention centres for crimes like graffiti and shoplifting, she said.

Payne pointed out the treatment New Zealanders in Australia received compared to Australians in New Zealand.

"We have been structured out of Australia's social service system for years now and our people have had no support in a country that continues to want us to come into it."

She had a message for anyone thinking about moving or travelling to Australia.

"I say 'Come home, you're at risk.'

"I say to New Zealanders, 'Don't enter that country even on holiday. You possibly could end up in detention.'"