7 Sep 2017

Australia detains NZ bikie again despite court win

1:18 pm on 7 September 2017

A New Zealand-born motorcycle gang member who won a landmark case in Australia's highest court yesterday has been arrested in Perth.

Mehaka Tepuia (detained) and grandson Kaige Ashby

Lee Tepuia with his grandson (file photo) Photo: Merepeka Matangi

Lee Tepuia, a 39-year-old carpet layer, spent 22 months in immigration detention after losing his visa on character grounds for being a member of the Rebels motorcycle club.

Mr Tepuia has lived in Australia since 2005 and has no criminal record there.

He won the ruling at 10am yesterday, walked free from a Perth detention centre half an hour later, then an hour after that learned the government had cancelled his visa again.

He was arrested about 10.15am Sydney time today.

Mr Tepuia had packed his bag and gone out on the street about 6am to let police parked outside know that he would go quietly, said someone close to the family who witnessed the arrest.

That witness, who RNZ agreed not to identify, said officers came to the door as Mr Tepuia's children were getting ready for school, opened it and tackled him to the floor before handcuffing him.

Four officers came into the house, and more were outside, they said.

"They were yelling and screaming ... the children were shaken and upset."

When his visa was previously revoked, and he was detained, he did not resist arrest, the witness said.

"I'm not running from anyone, I'm spending time with my family," Mr Tepuia told RNZ last night.

"I thought that I had my win today and I thought, well, that's all over, get back to my children, get my life back together ... I won a High Court decision with seven full judges and then the [Immigration] Minister overruled the judges."

Mr Tepuia said when he got out he first celebrated with his children and wife - then he got word his visa had been revoked again.

"My youngest daughter [11 years old], she's an Australian, and she's just been crying all day.

"They know the situation, they know I'm not a bad person, they know my story," he said of his four children, including 13-year-old twins.

Mr Tepuia said he would not quit the bikie club because it would not help him win back his visa, and it was not illegal to ride in such a club.

He said he was "going backwards ... the highest of the highest courts we've been to, there's nowhere else to go".

Authorities, however, said the Rebels were "one of Australia's highest criminal threats".

The family has been told Mr Tepuia would be taken back to Perth's immigration detention centre but said they suspected he would first be taken to the main prison.

Secrecy law 'unconstitutional' - High Court of Australia

In the case, a law that allowed Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to keep the reasons he originally cancelled Mr Tepuia's visa a secret was ruled unconstitutional by Australia's highest court.

The majority ruling said the law "amounted to a substantial curtailment of the capacity of a court ... to discern and declare whether or not the legal limits of power conferred on the Minister by the Act have been observed".

The power to cancel visas has been central in Mr Dutton's crackdown on motorcycle gangs - many of whom are New Zealand citizens.

Since these powers were strengthened in late 2014, more than 2600 visas have been cancelled, including 140 related to organised crime figures.

Mr Dutton had warned such a ruling would undermine public confidence in all immigration law and might allow criminals and even a jailed terrorist to go free.

"The potential for serious criminals to be released back into society will be the outcome," Mr Dutton said in mid-August.

Solicitor Thea Milides who represented Mr Tepuia and another bikie, AJ Graham, said it was a "very significant" case.

Ms Milides said the rule of law was what motivated the case, led by top Australian barrister Bret Walker, along with James Forsaith.

"At the end of the day, the whole point of this argument was that [the law] didn't allow for the natural rule of law to apply in its pure form, which is the very essence of our constitution, which is basically that a decision by government should and could be reviewed by the High Court of Australia."

It was very disappointing when the visa cancellation - under a different part of Australia's 501 immigration laws - came just two hours after the judgement, she said.

The federal government has been seeking to push through a law change to keep classified intelligence and police security assessments secret in such visa cases.

High-profile criminal bikie AJ Graham also caught up in case

AJ Graham, of Tasmania, won in the same ruling, however he was not released from detention in Sydney at all.

Graham has lived in Australia since 1976, has been the subject high-profile headlines across the Tasman and has a substantial criminal record, including for assault.

He was preparing to walk free from Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney when he was detained again, because the minister had immediately cancelled his visa for a third time.

Last year, when a federal court overturned Graham's visa cancellation, Mr Dutton cancelled it again within hours and he remained locked up.

Mr Tepuia said he did not think his case being associated with Graham's had hurt him.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs