Australia | 501s

PM unsure if 501s will increase after Australia rewrites deportation policy

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. Photo / NZME

This article was first published by the NZ Herald.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon is uncertain whether the number of 501 deportees coming from Australia will increase after his transtasman counterpart promised to rewrite its deportation policy relating to Kiwi citizens.

On Friday, Luxon said he’d spoken with Anthony Albanese over the phone on Thursday morning to discuss the Australian Prime Minister’s commitment to make changes to ‘ministerial direction 99′ - the framework used to assess whether to deport a non-citizen convicted of serious crimes, which took into account that person’s connections to Australia.

The directive was created after an announcement in 2022 by Albanese and then Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern that Australia would take a more “common sense” approach to deportations.

It came after several instances of criminal Kiwi citizens who had lived in Australia for most of their lives, and had few ties to Aotearoa, being sent back across the ditch.

AAP reported the directive had led to controversy for the Australian Government after it had been used in several decisions where foreign nationals were allowed to keep their visas, despite being found guilty of serious crimes.

Australian Opposition leader Peter Dutton has criticised Albanese for his “close and sycophantic” relationship with Ardern, which he claimed led to the directive.

Albanese rejected Dutton’s claim.

“What we do is determine our own policy according with our own interests and that is what we have done.”

However, Albanese’s decision to rewrite the policy has prompted Luxon to raise his “grave concerns” with Albanese about the potential for deportations to increase.

Deportees have been linked to a rise in gang activity in New Zealand and an increase in crime, which Luxon’s Government has promised to reduce.

“We regret the decision that Australia has made,” Luxon said.

“We have great concern about that decision because we don’t think that people who actually have very little attachment to this country and strong connections to Australia should be deported here.”

He said Albanese had reassured him the common sense approach would be retained, but he wasn’t sure if deportations would stay at current levels.

“Well, we’ll have to wait and see and we’ll have to monitor and actually see what the next steps are, but all I can do at this point [is] raise in very clear terms our grave concerns about the change to that policy.”

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has grave concerns about the potential for more 501 deportations to New Zealand. Photo / Mark Mitchell / NZME

In November, the Herald reported how in the preceding 12 months, an average of just over 18 people a month had been deported to New Zealand - well down on the height of the deportations policy in mid-2018, when the average was just under 44 a month.

The Herald has requested updated police data concerning the number of 501s deported to New Zealand in recent months.

The “501″ policy is a nickname for Section 501 of Australia’s Migration Act, under which the minister can refuse or cancel visas on character grounds if someone has “a substantial criminal record” or has been sentenced to imprisonment for 12 months or longer.

The deportations became a sore point in relations between the countries, reaching a low in 2021 when Dutton, then Australian Home Affairs Minister, referred to the policy as “taking out the trash”.

By Adam Pearse of the NZ Herald.