Detainees get short shrift from Australian media

7:17 am on 25 October 2017

Analysis - At that same time as I was interviewing deported Rebels biker AJ Graham, Australia's Channel 7 was running a terrific promotion for a documentary about another New Zealand-born deported biker.

Shane Martin is the father of Aussie Rules wonderboy Dustin Martin, who's widely touted as having played the best ever season in the history of the AFL to win player of the year and player of the final in his Richmond team's big win late last month.

Shane Martin

Shane Martin Photo: A Current Affair / Nine News

"The most important person in Dustin Martin's life missed his grand final victory - his dad," ran the TV promo for last weekend's show.

"His final shot," it said, bringing up a picture of Dustin, then of Shane Martin hugging his family, "to bring his dad home".

Richmond Tiger's Dustin Martin

Dustin Martin Photo: Photosport

Shane Martin has violence and drug convictions over a decade old.

But he was primarily targeted because, like AJ Graham, he is a member of the Rebels bikers.

AJ Graham gets his picture in the Australian media a lot too, complete with his half-face moko. But it's always in terms of why he's an unwanted threat - they don't ask his five children if they want their father back home.

AJ Graham pictured in Auckland.

AJ Graham pictured in Auckland. Photo: Facebook / AJ Graham

Such uneven-handedness about detainees and deportees makes for good TV, but it extends beyond that.

Just last week both the tabloid Herald Sun and The Australian carried a story about the Police Federation of Australia accusing judges of being too lenient towards non-citizens - mostly New Zealand expats - accused of violent crimes.

RNZ reported this too.

But unlike across the Tasman, we also reported the other issue raised in the federation's submission to MPs: that minor offenders are being unfairly hit by the clampdown and change is needed so fewer of them end up in immigration detention.

In one respect, the Australian government is more even-handed than local media - it's insisting neither Shane Martin nor AJ Graham will be allowed to return from New Zealand.

They ran afoul of the 'good character' grounds in the law. The specifics of what threat they pose remains shrouded in secrecy, despite Australia's highest court last month ruling the secrecy around AJ Graham's case is unconstitutional.

RNZ ran into this same secrecy from authorities across the Tasman.

The Police Federation last week said that nervous state and federal police had decided to no longer give security-sensitive information to the courts, following the AJ Graham High Court win.

That's significant for New Zealanders in detention.

When RNZ asked the Federal Police to confirm this, first they said it was wrong, next they said they would provide additional information, but finally, they said they "will not divulge the nature, type or extent of its information sharing".

RNZ also tried to find out if Australia has a new strategy to detain and deport even more non-citizens who are minor offenders.

Lawyers and community workers in Queensland report that hundreds of New Zealand expats have recently been detained under a previously little-used law, section 116.

This law is easier to fall foul of - you don't need to be convicted of a crime to lose your visa - and is also easier to appeal. But there aren't enough lawyers to run those appeals for detainees, and it will cost each of them at least $8000 even if the appeal fails.

But the Immigration Department refused to answer questions about whether this was a new strategy, or how many New Zealand citizens are detained this way.

Questions about secrecy and section 116 are much easier for Australia to ignore than one-off stories about the father of a footie star.

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