Why New Zealand Is Furious About Australia’s Deportations Policy


On the night of Sept. 11, 2015, security cameras in a prison in Goulburn, a city southwest of Sydney, recorded a final, desperate act.

A dark pool of blood and water spilled out from underneath a locked cell door. Alone inside, Junior Togatuki, 23, was bleeding heavily from a cut to his left wrist. He had sounded the alarm twice, but no one had come to his aid.

Mr. Togatuki, a New Zealand citizen of Samoan descent who had moved to Australia when he was 4 and who had a history of mental illness, was found dead the following morning.

He had been due to be deported.

The cancellation of Australian visas on the grounds of “character” has soared since December 2014, when the government amended its immigration law. Last year, more than half of those visas belonged to New Zealanders, almost 1,300 of whom have been deported since January 2015. They are now the largest group in Australia’s immigration detention centers, whereas before the legal changes New Zealanders were not even in the top 10.

Under the stricter character test, foreigners may be deported from Australia if they have served 12 months or more in prison or if immigration officials believe they pose a threat to the country. Many of them have lived in Australia for most or all of their lives, leaving families behind.

In some cases, convicted criminals have finished their sentences only to find themselves back in detention because their visas were canceled.

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Junior Togatuki’s mood and behavior became more desperate after his Australian visa was canceled, his sister said.

The shift in policy and its disproportionate impact on New Zealanders — along with additional disputes over Australia’s immigration policies — have become a major test for one of the world’s closest bilateral relationships.

Questions of race and fairness are intensifying: Of those sent back to New Zealand from January 2015 to this past April, at least 60 percent were Maori or Pacific Islander, according to figures obtained through an information request.

A new pathway to citizenship, offered to certain New Zealanders starting last year, has a similarly strict set of criteria, including an income threshold.

Australians living in New Zealand — 22,470, according to 2013 census figures — fare better. They are granted permanent residency on arrival and can apply for citizenship after five years. They can also become eligible for unemployment support and student loans.

In Australia, many New Zealanders now lack that kind of safety net. Policy changes in 2001 and subsequent years restricted their eligibility for a number of social security benefits, including unemployment and disability support.

Although they still have access to Australia’s universal health care system, they have mostly been unable to get student loans, and without a clear path to citizenship, many remain in limbo, living permanently on temporary visas that allow them to work but offer limited protections if they lose their jobs.

Many of the New Zealanders in Australia move there to pursue low-skilled, high-paying work, said Paul Hamer, a research associate at Victoria University of Wellington who has spoken with thousands of New Zealanders in Australia.

Junior Togatuki’s older sister, Jean Veu, said their parents moved to Australia because they wanted more opportunities for them.

But citizenship, a steppingstone to stability, is increasingly out of reach. Only 8.4 percent of the 146,000 New Zealand-born migrants who arrived in Australia from 2002 to 2011 had acquired Australian citizenship by 2016. The rate for New Zealand-born Maori was even lower, just under 3 percent.

In the same time period, incarceration rates for New Zealanders climbed. From 2009 to 2016, there was a 42 percent increase in New Zealand-born prisoners in Australia, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Some experts believe this is part of a broader pattern.

The 2001 changes, Mr. Hamer argued, were in part “aimed at filtering out Pacific Island migrants” who had easy access to New Zealand citizenship and were seen to be exploiting a “back door” to Australia.

Australian officials are so concerned about that method that last year they rejected New Zealand’s offer to accept refugees from Australia’s disputed offshore detention camps on Manus Island and Nauru — even though it would have helped end a lengthy struggle over where to send them.

Lafaele Stowers, a New Zealand citizen originally from Samoa, with one of his three children. Mr. Stowers has been in a Sydney detention center for more than a year while appealing the cancellation of his visa.

Back in New Zealand, a small country already struggling with surging homelessness, the deportations are becoming a serious burden.

“It crept up on us quite suddenly,” said Tui Ah Loo, chief executive of PARS, a charitable organization that supports both deportees with criminal histories and domestic prisoners.

From July 2017 to this May, PARS assisted 221 deportees, up from 144 in the previous financial year. Many have no family or support networks and need help with basic tasks like setting up bank accounts, getting driver’s licenses and finding places to live. Committing new offenses is also a concern.

Ms. Ah Loo said many of them “think Australian, act Australian and talk Australian.”

Jason Wereta, 46, said returning to New Zealand after 25 years in Australia has been difficult. Mr. Wereta, a father of four, was deported last year after serving a string of prison sentences for driving without a license, common assault and stalking or intimidation.

He recently moved to New Zealand’s South Island to take a job shearing sheep. But like many deportees, his children are in Australia, where he hopes to return.

This separation of families needs closer examination, according to New Zealand officials.

While Ms. Ardern acknowledged that Australia had a “sovereign right to set its own immigration policies,” she said the ties that people have to Australia should be given greater weight in immigration decisions.

The question at issue is a common one: Who is ultimately responsible for long-term residents of a country?

In January, for example, it was reported that Alex Viane, a convicted criminal, would be deported to New Zealand despite never having been there. Mr. Viane, 41, was born in American Samoa and moved to Australia when he was 14, obtaining New Zealand citizenship through an uncle. His partner, two daughters and two grandsons all live in Australia.

Lafaele Stowers, a New Zealand citizen originally from the country of Samoa, is in a similar position. He has lived in Australia for 12 years and has two young children with his partner, Renay, and a 9-year-old son from a previous relationship. She and all three children are Australian citizens.

In December 2016, Mr. Stowers, 32, was preparing to go home after serving six months of a 14-month sentence for assault when he was told his Australian visa had been canceled.

“You just freeze. You don’t know what to do,” he said by cellphone from his room at the Sydney detention center where he has been for more than a year.

When foreigners’ visas are canceled, they can leave Australia voluntarily or lodge an application for appeal within 28 days. If they appeal, they must, as Mr. Stowers has, wait in detention centers for their cases to be heard.

His sentence had expired more than a month before his death, but he continued to be held at the direction of the Immigration Department.

His family acknowledges that he was troubled — he was sent to juvenile detention at 16 and was later convicted of armed robbery and assault. But his mental health deteriorated in prison, with doctors saying he had schizophrenia. Relatives said they learned the extent of Mr. Togatuki’s issues only after he died.

“If we had known, we could have helped him,” said Ms. Veu, who saw her brother’s mood and behavior grow more desperate after his visa was canceled.

In a letter to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, Mr. Togatuki wrote: “If I was to be deported back to New Zealand, I will be truly lost with myself. I have no one there, no job, no home or a roof over my head.”

Mr. Togatuki liked to draw, so his family designed a custom tombstone for his grave that incorporates his artwork. Almost three years after his death, they are close to paying off the $12,000 cost.

They bring a tall white cross when they visit the suburban Sydney cemetery where Mr. Togatuki is buried, in the country he didn’t want to leave.

Trump Wants Back Into the TPP. Not So Fast, Say Members.


“We’ve got a deal” already, said Steven Ciobo, Australia’s trade minister, who added, “I can’t see that all being thrown open to appease the United States.”

[Read about President Trump’s reversal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which came at a gathering of politicians from farm states that stand to lose from any trade war with China.]

An early test of the potential for the United States to rejoin could come as soon as next week, when Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister and an ardent champion of the pact, is to meet with Mr. Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla.

Mr. Trump’s renewed interest in the pact depends on whether the United States could strike a better deal than President Barack Obama did, Mr. Trump said in a Thursday night tweet. Still, negotiations with a group of longtime trading partners could hold appeal at a time of increasing tensions with China.

Mr. Trump faces a growing domestic backlash from corporations, farmers and others over fears that he is igniting a trade war with China, the United States’ largest single trading partner. Mr. Trump has warned that he could levy tariffs on $150 billion in Chinese goods, prompting Beijing to threaten retaliatory measures aimed at American soybeans, airplanes and other products.

Negotiating a new pact could take years. Still, rekindling negotiations could make it hard for China to play off the United States against its allies by promising to shift business from one to another if a trade war breaks out. It could be a way to assuage American farmers and businesses hurt by Chinese tariffs by assuring robust markets for American products in countries that signed onto the deal, like Japan, Australia and South Korea. It would give the pact a great deal more heft and help position it as an economic counterweight to China, which increasingly dominates the Asia-Pacific region.

More broadly, it signals to the region that the United States is not giving up on trade, despite Mr. Trump’s sometimes harsh words. Even as officials in other countries expressed skepticism on Friday, they said they would like to hear what Washington has to offer. “Japan would like to listen to the U.S.’s view,” said Mr. Suga, the Japanese official.

What Is TPP? Behind the Trade Deal That Died

On his first full workday in office, President Trump delivered on a campaign promise by abandoning the enormous trade deal that had became a flashpoint in American politics.


The barriers to a new pact are considerable. Many current members of the pact feel they already gave considerable ground to the United States to strike the original deal, particularly in sensitive areas like protections for pharmaceutical companies.

For its part, the Trump administration worries that the partnership will become a zero-tariff backdoor for Chinese goods into the American market. It worries that companies that have moved much of their supply chains to China could make components there, ship them to a member of the T.P.P. for assembly, then sell them in the United States tariff-free. It wants to toughen requirements for how much of the product is made within the T.P.P. country, which could make the goods less competitive.

Their worries focus largely on Vietnam, a member of the current version of the T.P.P. It has a large population, and a few big American companies, like Intel, have already invested heavily in setting up factories there that make products practically from scratch. But many other companies that are exporting goods from Vietnam rely heavily on imports from China. Vietnam’s huge garment industry, for example, relies greatly on fabric and accessories imported from China, according to garment manufacturing executives.

Vietnamese officials did not respond to requests for comment on Friday. Frederick Burke, managing partner for Vietnam at the American law firm Baker McKenzie, said that the Vietnamese government is “very aware of and focused on the issue of circumvention” in trade.

Renegotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, may not be quick. Mr. Trump’s trade negotiators already have their hands full this spring trying to complete changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement. They need to decide whether to extend temporary exemptions from the president’s new tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. Above all, they are locked in a series of increasingly acrimonious trade spats with China.

China is making its own outreach efforts in the meantime. Wang Yi, its foreign minister, will travel to Tokyo on Sunday. China has played up free trade talks with Japan and with South Korea, which is not a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Sheila A. Smith, a Japan expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, said the Trump administration may have realized that it does not have the leverage it thought to renegotiate a new trade deal with Japan, and that embracing the regional pact may be the best fallback.

The Trump administration “could walk right back in with the exact same deal from last year that they walked out of, and claim victory,” said Ms. Smith, who noted that the government of Mr. Abe “has been continuously and quietly encouraging the U.S. administration to take another look” at the pact.

One lingering question would be how China would react. The pact’s rules were designed in part to challenge China by encouraging members to loosen state support of their economies and relax trade rules — steps Beijing would have to take if it hoped to someday join the pact and enjoy its lower trade barriers.

China is not likely to be troubled by a United States move to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership as long as the Trump administration is doing so for strictly trade reasons, said He Weiwen, a former Commerce Ministry official and trade specialist who is now a senior fellow at the influential Center for China and Globalization in Beijing.

But the Chinese government is likely to be dismayed if the United States is reconsidering it as part of any revival of the Obama administration’s geopolitical pivot to Asia, or as part of any attempt to isolate China, Mr. He cautioned.

“That’s what we should be careful about,” he said.

Some current members of the pact greeted Mr. Trump’s comments on Thursday warmly. A spokeswoman for Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry said it welcomed the American interest. “The TPP was designed to be an inclusive agreement, which is open to like-minded countries willing and able to meet its high standards,” the spokeswoman said.

Still, even American allies suggest a long road ahead if Mr. Trump moves forward.

“If the United States genuinely did wish to re-enter, that would trigger another process of engagement and negotiation,” Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, said on television, adding that she still planned to go forward with the deal as-is. “It’s not just a matter of slotting into an existing deal.”

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