Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: Illusions of a Trans-Tasman partnership

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Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre. Image, Wikimedia.org. The NZ Government has introduced urgent legislation for a tighter regime to oversee and monitor New Zealanders with criminal convictions being deported from Australia.

Political Roundup by Dr Bryce Edwards.

Dr Bryce Edwards.
Dr Bryce Edwards.

Australia’s new policy of deporting law-breaking New Zealand-born residents, as well as keeping them in detention centres, has met with strong opposition in New Zealand. Valid criticisms are being made of the new situation, but are these objections founded on hypocrisy and myth?

The world is supposed to be becoming freer and more liberal. Whether via trade agreements or better relations between enlightened politicians, we’re meant to live in a globalising era of increased mobility of trade, capital, and labour. In tandem with this shift, the world is supposed to be becoming fairer, with greater protection of human rights and respect for the rule of law. Yet the latest human rights abuses of New Zealanders in Australia are an example of the illusion of political progress. 

The myth of free trans-Tasman movement

The best backgrounder on the new deportation and detention policies towards New Zealanders who have committed crimes is Ben Heather’s Deportation of hundreds of Kiwis has been brewing for more than a decade.

A more colourful report can be seen in Kim Vinnell’s seven-minute news report for TV3’s Story – see: Inside Australian detention centres holding Kiwis for deportation. See also her six-minute item, Aussies crack down on Kiwis with convictions.

These new policies are a significant change for those affected, and they point to a shift away from any notion of the two countries being a single market inside which citizens can freely shift. In a sense, the two countries are becoming less integrated, with reciprocal residential rights diminishing. But the fact that this has come about so easily and without any apparent official negotiations is because there has never been any entrenched or well-established agreement between Australia and New Zealand on these issues. 

This is a point well made by Matthew Hooton in his NBR column, Transtasman travel rights need codification (paywalled). He says that New Zealand has no treaty or official agreement with Australia that determines the free flow of people between the countries, and therefore the rules about travel or domestic entitlements can simply be changed on a whim: “There is, in fact, no formal right of New Zealanders to live and work in Australia and there never has been. CER makes no commitment to it, except, at a very long stretch, a reference in the preamble”.

Essentially New Zealanders in Australia are now finding out what it feels like to be “guest workers” in another country, part of a “foreign” labour force treated as second-class citizens at best. Of course these arrangements are normally thought of as occurring in places like the Gulf states, where many foreign workers are little more than semi-slaves. 

In this regard, Keith Rankin calls this the “Saudi-isation of Australia” – see: Australia’s Ireland – What exactly is New Zealand’s relationship with Australia? Here’s his main point: “We are now seeing the full playing-out of this new ‘guest worker’ relationship. New Zealand-born Australians have become substantial victims of a process within Australia in which a clear divide is growing between denizen workers and citizens. The Saudi-isation of Australia. New Zealand has to accept that it is not a much-loved bastard sibling of the former Australian colonies. Rather New Zealand is just another foreign nation dealing with an essentially xenophobic neighbour. We need to get used to this.”

New Zealand hypocrisy

New Zealanders are outraged about Australia’s actions. But is this hypocritical? After all, New Zealand hasn’t been in a hurry to condemn other recent violations of human rights by our “best mate”. As Janet McAllister puts it, we’ve been ignoring “the huge marsupial in the room”, so maybe we don’t really deserve to be listened to.

Adam Dudding says, “Perhaps we Kiwis could have been louder, earlier, in our condemnation of Australia’s increasingly dubious human rights record.  Since we’ve learnt about the Kiwis of Christmas Island, our complaints may look like self-interest” – see his excellent Letter to Australia: What the bloody hell are ya?, a colourful examination of how integrated – yet also very different – our countries are. 

Our relative silence has been particularly troubling when it comes to Australia’s treatment of refugees. Australia has been sending them to refugee centres for years, leading refugee advocate Tracey Barnett to ask: “Are ugly Australian immigration gulags just fine as long as Kiwis aren’t thrown in them?”

In Barnett’s article in the Herald, NZ blind to Aussie detention ‘gulags’, she condemns the New Zealand Government’s silence: “when it comes to indefinite detention of asylum arrivals in these same modern-day gulags – with no access to legal counsel, or family, or an end-date to their unknown sentence – what has New Zealand said about locking up some of the world’s most desperate – folks guilty of trying to find safety from war?  Not. A. Word”.

In fact before the latest trans-Tasman stoush, Janet McAllister wrote in Metro magazine about New Zealand’s failure to deal with injustice in our own neighbourhood – see: Why are we ignoring our nearest refugee bully?

She suggests that our outpouring of concern for refugees in Europe needs to be matched in our dealing with atrocities being committed by our best mate: “In their backyard shed, our best mates are torturing scared people who came to them for help; are we thinking about having a quiet word with them at the next neighbourhood barbecue?  Currently, we’re whistling with our hands in our pockets, craning our necks to see what’s happening over the horizon in Europe instead.”

Similarly, New Zealand journalist Michael Field ‏(@MichaelFieldNZ) who specialises in pacific issues, has been challenging New Zealand’s stance against Australia, with tweets such as: “NZ tears over people deported from Australia: yet ruthlessly did same to i-Kiribati man Ioane Teitiota & his NZ family refugees”, and “NZ crying over deportations from Australia yet NZ deports many to S’Pacific – irrespective of social disasters it creates like Tonga riot”. 

Field also wrote a very interesting blog post – which dates before the latest detention centre disagreement – suggesting that New Zealand also has a record of questionable deportation policies – see: Climate refugee jailed in NZ

While he points to the fact that the recent deportee Ioane Teitiota was put in prison before being removed from the country, Field also draws attention to 1970s attempts – prior to the “dawn raids” – to deport Samoans. 

Some New Zealanders are also supportive of current day Australian deportation policies. For example, looking at the thirty Australians in jail in New Zealand, Amy Maas reports that “Sensible Sentencing Trust founder Garth McVicar said New Zealand should take Australia’s approach and send them back. ‘Our law should be identical to Australia’s law when it comes to prisoners,’ he said” – see: Australian crims: ‘Send them home’.

The Sensible Sentencing Trust might also get support from some political parties. Government support party, the Maori Party has been voicing the need for New Zealand to replicate the Australian rules here. For example on TVNZ’s Q+A Maori Party Co-leader Marama Fox expressed disgust for what’s happening in Australia but also said “So is it time to bring in reciprocal legislation and say, ‘Well, okay, long gone the Anzac Spirit” – see her eight-minute interview: Maori Party on detaining and deporting Kiwis in Australia.

Of course, New Zealand is not immune to criticisms of human rights violations in the international arena either. This last week has seen investigative journalist Jon Stephenson win his defamation case against the New Zealand military, which related to his expose dealing with questions about New Zealand troops handing over Afghani detainees to authorities known to use torture – see Phil Taylor’s Defence Force settle defamation action with journalist

You can read Stephenson’s full original Metro article here: Eyes Wide Shut: The Government’s Guilty Secrets in Afghanistan

The myth of the special relationship

Most criticisms in New Zealand of the Australian Government’s new deportation and detention centre policies rest – not on human rights or justice – but more on the apparent degradation of the New Zealand’s special relationship with our neighbour. Everyone from the Prime Minister through to the newspaper editorials bemoan that the new policies mean that New Zealanders are no longer receiving special treatment from Australia. The subtext is that New Zealand doesn’t have a problem with Australia’s deportation and detention centre policies, but just that they are using them against New Zealanders. 

John Key has frequently spoken of the “Anzac bond and an Anzac spirit”, saying “that surely means we might get some treatment that’s different from other countries” – see the ABC report, New Zealand prime minister John Key says detainment of NZ citizens by Australia ‘not in Anzac spirit’

But does New Zealand really have a special relationship with Australia? Australian Brian Stoddart – now a resident in Queenstown – argues that ““Mainstream New Zealand must deal with the Australian reality and not an imagined special relationship” – see: Kiwis, Aussies frequently poles apart. He states that “The ‘special bond’’ may never have existed”, and that “Australian realpolitik and cultural pressure will always trump any warm, fuzzy feeling”. 

Is Australia becoming a rogue state?

Some of the strong criticism being levelled at Australia’s actions suggests that its reputation within the Pacific is becoming quite tarnished, as I’ve argued – see John Gibb’s Australia risks ‘pariah’ tag

Similarly, the head of the University of Otago law school, Prof Mark Henaghan, says ”It’s almost getting close to Guantanamo Bay” – see John Gibb’s Validity of detentions questioned. Henaghan explains “Holding some New Zealanders for months in remote Australian detention centres before deporting them invites comparison with detainees being held without trial at Guantanamo Bay”. He also suggests that Australia is not meeting its “obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

It’s certainly true that Australia is falling foul of the United Nations over some of these issues. Earlier this year a UN report criticised Australia for systematic breaches of the international Convention Against Torture. The then prime minister, Tony Abbott responded in the way that rogue countries usually do, saying Australians were “sick of being lectured to by the United Nations”.  

Various columnists have also made strong statements about the way Australia is operating – the best are Rosemary McLeod’s Irony aplenty in how Australia treats immigrants and refugees and Brian Rudman’s Aussie deportations no better than penal colonies of old

For a particularly heart-felt – and Maori-focused – critique of what is happening, see the blog post Dawn raids, detention and deportation: the new Australian dream by Victoria University law lecturer Mamari Stephens.

And for a reminder that this isn’t just a handful of New Zealanders being affected by this change of law, see Tom McRae’s Up to 5000 convicts could be deported to NZ – lawyer

Multi-partisan consensus

In Australia there seems to be a very widespread consensus about the correctness of the new deportation and detention centre policy. As Audrey Young points out, “State discrimination imposed by John Howard’s Government has been upheld by successive leaders including Gillard” – see: For Australia the bonds of love do not go that far

Some Australian politicians are dissenting however, and on Sunday TVNZ’s Q+A programme had a nine-minute interview with the Australian Greens immigration spokesperson – see: Detaining and deporting Kiwis is concerning: Australian Greens. For a report on this, see Jo Moir’s Detention centres ‘a sore that will fester’ – Australian politician.

New Zealand politicians are remarkably united in their condemnation. See for example Phil Goff and Judith Collins’ opinion pieces, C’mon Aussies, give us a fair go

There are, however, some disagreements, particularly on the question of whether the New Zealand government is doing enough to persuade the Australia Government. 

In addition, Bill English has claimed that there is no evidence of abuse in the detention centres, which Labour’s Annette King has replied strongly to: “It probably shows a level of ignorance that you wouldn’t expect from the deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand – and a lack of compassion and feeling for the families and the children of those who are facing deportation and are locked up in a detention centre indefinitely” – see Radio New Zealand’s No evidence of mistreatment – English

Labour has also suggested that National hasn’t adequately responded to the issue, with King saying: “As it is it’s taken almost a year for the Government to get off its comfy backside and start talking, and that’s only after publicity around these arrangements forced its hand” – see Sam Sachdeva’s Annette King hits back at Bill English claims over detained Kiwis

But the most stunning political reaction to the issue has come from Government minister Peter Dunne, who has accused the National Government of responding to the Australia situation without adequate force – see Nicholas Jones’ Subservient response to Australia shows lack of spine: Peter Dunne. Here’s Dunne’s strong words: “In recent years our foreign policy has become too craven and trade-focussed and lacking a moral compass. In short, we have become too silent, lest we cause offence…. Relying on quiet words in diplomatic ears; nods and winks; pull-asides; text messages, or whatever, is not the way to conduct foreign policy – it is time to abandon the chin-dripping subservience we are lapsing into.”  

Labour’s David Shearer has also called for the Government to make louder protests about Australia’s human rights abuses, saying: “In the same way New Zealand has spoken out against human rights abuses in our smaller Pacific neighbours, we should be drawing world attention to those being committed by Australia” – see TV3’s Australian detention centres ‘extraordinarily bad’ – Labour.

Newspaper editorials have been united in condemnation of Australia – see the Herald’s Aussie policy on expulsion needs rethink, the Otago Daily Times’ Transtasman relationship, and the Dominion Post’s Deportation drive leaves bitter taste

Finally, for an Australian perspective on the issue – and use of the phrase “Kiwi killers” – see the 7-minute report from the television programme, A Current Affair, titled Kiwi Deports

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Dr Bryce Edwards is a political scientist and a lecturer in Politics.

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