Andrew Little will tour the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in Sydney. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Andrew Little will tour the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in Sydney. Photo / Jason Oxenham NZ Herald

NZ Labour leader visiting Kiwis detained in Sydney

KIWIS locked up in a Sydney detention centre are today being visited by Labour leader Andrew Little - in the strongest signal yet of his party's concern at Australia's tough new stance.

Mr Little and MP Phil Goff are touring the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in Sydney to see conditions themselves and speak with New Zealanders who are being kept there.

Labour has been strongly critical of the National Government's response to an Australian law change last December, which has seen non-Australians sentenced to a year or more in jail, or those judged to fail a character test, detained and deported.

This morning's visit comes after Mr Little yesterday met Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and was told there would be no change in policy.

He asked for better discretion to be exercised at the point of revoking a visa.

The only concession made by Mr Dutton - who has refused repeated interview requests from New Zealand media - was that he would look into any individual cases brought to him by Labour.

There has been little domestic pressure put on the Australian Government over its deportation policy - the Australian Labor Party also support the tougher law.

Centres such as Villawood and on the isolated Christmas Island have been used to detain asylum-seekers, but the law change has seen hundreds of New Zealanders - many of whom have lived in Australia since childhood - locked up, while they appeal their deportation to a country some don't remember.

The primary purpose of Mr Little's two-day Australian trip is to highlight the lack of rights between an estimated 250,000 to 350,000 Kiwis living in Australia on "non protected" visas have - including little welfare safety nets, and no automatic path to permanent residency or citizenship.

Both Labour and National-led Governments have been lobbying for change since Kiwis' rights were greatly reduced in February 2001 by John Howard's Liberal Government.

Riots at Christmas Island and the arrival of criminals in New Zealand, including on the so-called "Con Air" flight, have been a major political issue this year.

But, partly because of Mr Little's Australian trip, focus is now switching to the related but wider issue of all New Zealand expats' rights.

While in Manila for an Apec summit Prime Minister John Key told media that he sensed Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull could move on giving a clearer path to citizenship, as an alternative to changing the threshold at which deportations occur.

Mr Little's visit to Villawood comes after his Corrections spokesman Kelvin Davis travelled to Christmas Island and visited New Zealanders held there, and after Mr Key's accusation that Labour and Green MPs were "backing rapists" caused walk outs at Parliament.

Speaker David Carter ruled that Mr Key's comments were unparliamentary, but did not make the Prime Minister withdraw them because no MP had complained at the time.

Kiwis in detention or deported

As at October 31, there were 213 New Zealanders in Australian detention centres (190 men, 23 women) - the second-largest nationality group behind Iran. Others have already been deported back to New Zealand, or successfully defended their deportation.

Cases previously reported in media:

• Ko Rutene - has no convictions, but visa revoked on grounds he was a member of a motorcycle club.
• Angela Russell - moved to Australia aged three. Faces deportation after serving a sentence for stealing. She had previous convictions for similar offences.
• Ronald Neilson - used a metal pole to smash a stranger's face, the Courier-Mail reported.
• Richard Peter Coburn - returned on so-called "Con Air" charter flight. Convicted for manslaughter after dumping girlfriend's body in a bin.

- NZ Herald