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501 deportees: what you need to know

In brief

  • Named after section 501 of the Australian Migration Act, 2800+ criminals have been sent to NZ since 2015, as “501 deportees”. They often reoffend.
  • While they are NZ and not Australian citizens, many have no connection to NZ.
  • Australia has recently agreed to take a more “common sense” approach to deportation of 501s.

Who and what are “501 deportees”?

Section 501 of the Australian Migration Act lays out conditions for deportation, resulting in the name “501 deportees”. It applies most often to NZ citizens due to the privilege they enjoy in moving to Australia.

The special relationship means many NZ citizens live and work, sometimes for decades, on “temporary visas” and never actually obtain Australian citizenship. Australian bred “Kiwis” face visa cancellation by the Australian Government on character grounds if they have spent more than a year in an Australian prison.

While NZ  deported around 32 Australians, more than 2800 people have been deported from Australia to NZ between 2015 and 2022. When Australia enacted the deportation policy in 2015, it was assumed the numbers would be half that.

Many 501s have little to no connection to New Zealand. One man awaiting deportation has no connection other than being born in NZ when his Australian mother happened to be on holiday in the 1970s.

501 deportees: what you need to know - Centrist

Are they fuelling a rise in organised crime?

NZ Police often have difficulty obtaining adequate information about 501s from Australia. Without sufficient information, deportees with violent, sexual and drug related offences may lack proper supervision or conditions placed on them to manage their risk to the public.

Risks are exacerbated by a poor support network for 501s, including a lack of friends and family, as well as mental health support and rehabilitation services.

Over half the 501s have reoffended in New Zealand. Offences range from violent, sexual and firearm offences to drug and traffic violations. There is an average of about 5 offences per 501.

Police say that only around 5% of deportees are known gang members, but they’re fuelling a rise in organised crime in New Zealand.

Australia announces a common sense approach 

Australia announced a more “common sense” approach starting in March 2023 to account for people’s ties to Australia. However, should they determine that individuals “pose a risk to the community”, they will continue visa cancellations and deportations.

Also, Australia won’t consider retrospective action in the case of previous deportees who have already been sent to New Zealand. But is this going to matter to many more actual cases or is it just public relations? Looking at it in two different ways, the number of 501s already deported is equal to a third of the entire NZ prison population and a tenth of offenders on probation. How many more potential 501s could there be?

NZ passes legislation to effectively monitor 501s 

501s in NZ can be subject to strict conditions if they’ve served more than a year in an Australian prison. Conditions include keeping photographic, fingerprint and DNA records, limits on association, electronic monitoring, etc.

However, a 2019 court case found the NZ Government breached the rights of individuals against retrospective punishment.

The Government has since passed the Returning Offenders (Management and Information) Amendment Act making the policy of imposing conditions on 501s to New Zealand lawful. The law also says the Commissioner of Police doesn’t need to provide 501s with notice they can be subject to “returning prisoner” legislation, nor do they have a “right to be heard” on the matter.

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