National leader Christopher Luxon wants a "tough on crime" approach to 501 deportees, as Australian lawmakers consider proposals to strengthen its ability to cancel visas which could see a large increase in people with tenuous links deported to New Zealand.
Speaking on Breakfast on Wednesday morning, Luxon said New Zealand needed to keep expressing their "displeasure" over the policy. However, he noted Australia was allowed to pass whatever laws it saw fit.
That left the "bigger issue" of what happened when they did make it to New Zealand, Luxon said. He claimed the 501 deportees who were deported from Australia on character grounds were changing New Zealand's gang landscape, making it more aggressive and sophisticated.
Australia's 2014 law deports people who commit crimes back to New Zealand - even if they have spent most of their lives living overseas. The controversial policy has been the source of ongoing tension between Australia and New Zealand, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern publicly raising the issue of deportees during her last overseas meeting with Australian PM Scott Morrison in February, 2020.
"Send back Kiwis, genuine Kiwis - do not deport your people, and your problems," she said to Morrison in front of media.
Breakfast host Matty McLean asked Luxon if the answer to preventing 501s from joining gangs in New Zealand was to provide them with wraparound support, especially as many were being sent to a country they had little to no links to after serving their sentences.
"I appreciate you want to argue a different argument," Luxon told McLean. "The point is, they are creating much more misery, pain, they're peddling drugs. That's impacting all families across New Zealand."
He said gang numbers were up 50%. National had been citing that figure - which said gang membership had grown from 5343 to 8003 in the past four years - since at least last year. However, the Police Commissioner and Police Minister had called that number into question because it was meant to be used for intelligence purposes.
McLean asked if providing proactive support could help stop an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff approach.
"We have to be tough on crime. We also have to be tough on the causes of crime, I get all of that," Luxon responded.
"Our gang environment has changed in New Zealand because we've got quite hardened 501 criminals that have been operating in a much more sophisticated gang environment in Australia and have imported that into New Zealand.
"Be under no illusions about that and make no apologies about that."
Luxon said New Zealand could provide as much wraparound support as it wanted to 501s, but that didn't take away from the fact some had been involved in crime for years.
He said the Government should create a dedicated taskforce to target gang crime.
It comes as police continued Operation Tauwhiro, which targeted firearms violence by gangs. As of mid-December last year, 1369 firearms had been seized and 1161 arrests had been made since it started in February 2021.
Australia's Senate is scheduled to debate new laws this week that would strengthen its deportation laws on character grounds.
If passed, the Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test) Bill will provide new grounds for a visa to be cancelled, if a non-citizen has been convicted of certain serious crimes.
Currently, visas can be revoked on character grounds if someone is sentenced to jail for 12 months or more, or convicted of sexual crimes involving a child.
But, politicians are cutting it fine as the Morrison government only has two more Senate sitting days to get the legislation through. There is a chance it may be bumped to the final sitting day before the Federal Election.
Dr Abul Rizvi, former Deputy Secretary of Australia’s Department of Immigration, told 1News on Tuesday the proposed law could see the number of those failing the character test increase five-fold.