19 Oct 2017

Oz deportations too harsh on minor offenders - police

9:43 am on 19 October 2017

Too many low-level offenders were being swept up by an immigration clampdown that has affected hundreds of New Zealanders since it began three years ago, police officers there say.

Many of the New Zealanders swept up in the crackdown have been detained at Villawood detention centre near Sydney

Many of the New Zealanders swept up in the crackdown have been detained at Villawood detention centre near Sydney Photo: AFP

Australian police want tougher measures against violent criminals facing deportation to New Zealand, but favour a softer line against minor offenders who also face detention before being sent back across the Tasman.

Their national union, the Police Federation of Australia, told a joint parliamentary inquiry yesterday that too many low-level offenders were being swept up by the changes.

"It did come about because of the fairness issue," Federation chief executive Mark Burgess said.

He said a better approach for petty criminals was needed, particularly as the Federation had been advised that half of those whose visas had been automatically cancelled had them reinstated once they had been reviewed.

"Where there are minor offences involved, particularly where the sentence is a suspended sentence as opposed to a custodial sentence, there may be a way where we have a bridging visa, or the like, for a period of time whilst the appeal process is going on."

The Federation said some judges were imposing lighter penalties to avoid the mandatory visa cancellation and detention that kicked in with a sentence of at least 12 months, Mr Burgess said.

He had heard from police officers in three states who had witnessed judges doing this.

"Clearly where there were people committing serious acts of violence then we [the Federation] were of the view that they shouldn't be escaping the provisions of this legislation just because a judge or a magistrate decided to be kind enough not to impose the 12-month sentence. In fact they imposed a nine, 10, 11-month sentence."

He understood that state and federal police were no longer going to provide security-sensitive information to tribunals considering detainees' appeals.

That could make it more straightforward for detainees to appeal.

The Federation's submission to the inquiry reported 51 percent of deportees sent to New Zealand had reoffended within two years.

That differed from new figures supplied by the Corrections Department in New Zealand, which found about 20 percent of deportees reoffended.

Of the 267 deportees who completed a Returning Offenders Order, seven were currently sentenced prisoners, 12 were in custody on remand and 29 were on community sentences.

In total, 817 offenders - the majority from Australia - have returned to New Zealand since the law came into force in November 2015, which immediately followed a riot among detainees held on the remote Christmas Island.

The number of deportees arriving in New Zealand this year - 222 in total so far - was about the same as last year.

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