23 Sep 2015

NZers on Christmas Island on the rise

5:46 pm on 23 September 2015

Christmas Island is normally associated with refugees but a New Zealander detained on the Australian territory says more and more New Zealanders are being held there.

It has emerged New Zealanders are the third largest group being held in Australian detention centres but just six months ago this country did not even make the top 10.

An Australian Border Force (ABF) badge can be seen on an officer's shirt.

New rules brought in late last year have given Australia greater powers to cancel visas and order deportation for relatively minor criminal offences. Photo: AAP

Tukaka Whakatutu, 44, was sent to Christmas Island after serving four years of a seven-year prison term in Australia. He had been jailed for his involvement in an insurance fraud with his boss, in which he burned down a workshop.

He was charged with arson and malicious damage, as well as drunk driving.

He said 75 New Zealanders and Pacific Islanders were with him, and three or four more New Zealanders arrived every fortnight.

"There's not a lot to do here, it's pretty bloody boring. They've got a big compound we can walk around, they've got gym access but they're restricting that now because there's so many of us.

"It's more catered for refugees and boat people... not New Zealanders... the food is total crap... half the food we get is out of date," he told Radio New Zealand from the detention centre.

Whakatutu has a son born while he was in prison, and five step children. He is fighting to be allowed to stay in Australia.

"They threw me on a plane and flew me over to Christmas in mid-July and I've been stuck here ever since - no visits, no contact with lawyers or anything like that."

He said his visa was cancelled automatically because he served more than 12 months in jail.

"There's no legal representation here at all - you can ring your lawyer and you get computer access about four hours a week.

"So that's the only contact you can have with lawyers, if you've got the money to pay for them," he said.

Whakatutu said officials tried to force detainees to sign papers so they would be deported.

He said his children were "playing up in school" and could not understand why he was not at home.

Whakatutu said the New Zealand government should be pushing Australia to process applications from detainees to stay there much faster.

He has appealed to immigration officials in Australia to have his visa reinstated but said his application was "floating around in Melbourne".

"I ring them every week to find out what the progress is... it's still pending... it's taken six months at least just to get that far, we can't understand why it's taken so long," he said.