‘Trash’ row: Time for NZ to act on ‘harsh, demoralising’ detention centres – advocate

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New Zealand needs to send representatives into detention centres in Australia and they would see the brutal way detainees are treated, an advocate says.

Australian detention centre on Manus Island, PNG

Australian detention centre on Manus Island. Photo: REFUGEE ACTION COALITION / AFP

A row that’s erupted after Australia’s Home Affairs Minister called New Zealand 501 deportees “trash” has sparked renewed calls for the government to take a stronger stance on the issue.

Peter Dutton was being interviewed for a Channel 9 News report about deportees leaving Australia when he described the process as “taking out the trash”.

In the report, which aired in Australia on Monday, journalist Jordan Fabris speaks to those being taken to New Zealand as they cross the tarmac, saying to one “our country doesn’t want you, are you excited to go home?” and to another “how does it feel to be kicked out of Australia?”

The co-ordinator of the Iwi n Aus advocacy group, Filipa Payne, told Morning Report Dutton’s comments came as no surprise to her.

“Peter Dutton treats people that way in his detention centres and he’s the man who’s in control so he is the man who holds the power on how people are treated.”

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It was disappointing that a political leader would speak about people in this way, she said.

Australia's Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton calls the shots on detention centres, Filipa Payne says. Photo: Sean Davey / AFP

She believed it was time that New Zealand responded strongly and stood up as “true warriors” and made it clear to Australia that their treatment of people was “disgusting” and this country would do something about it.

She queried why Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern complained about the deportation of former prisoners but never referred to the detention centres in which people are held before being deported.

“What happens in Australian detention centres is brutal, harsh and demoralising – what are we going to do about it?”

Payne said New Zealand should send representatives into the detention centres to find out about their welfare and how they could be helped when they return to this country.

She said she regularly visited deportation centres pre-Covid so New Zealand officials should be able to do the same. They would see people who did not get adequate medical care, addiction treatment services or counselling or any support for the difficulties their families were facing.

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The children of inmates usually stopped going to school as they dealt with the trauma of the parent going into a detention centre.

“That is life-changing for that child so while Mr Dutton might think that he’s doing everyone a favour he’s actually forming a cycle for these children that is heartbreaking.”

Filipa Payne outside the Australian High Commission in Wellington

Filipa Payne says Australia is paying little regard to the impact of its deportation policy on the families left behind. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

This country also has the power to insist that the superannuation savings of deportees from Australia be released and given to them to use now.

“We’re asking people to come to New Zealand to live on a benefit that drains our welfare system… a lot of these people have sufficient funds in their retirement savings that should be released to them when they get here.

“Let’s empower them, let’s give them choices and let’s treat them like humans and hopefully with that scenario, they can go forward and live a good life as well.”

Payne said New Zealanders living in Australia were “structured out of assistance” and did not get the support that other residents received.

“They’re vulnerable, they’re alienated, and they’re herded up …into the detention centres.

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“We are the people that they make misery of.”

She said that more and more Australians were realising that the deportations were racially implemented, brutal and not right.

Opposition politicians were silenced, partly out of fear of Dutton’s retaliation.

Two days ago she spoke to a 20-year-old who has been in a detention centre for two and a half years for the crime of stealing a six-pack of bourbon.

“That was his crime – so what are we going to do to help him?”

She said she was proud of New Zealand politicians who stood up and rejected Dutton’s comments.

“Come on New Zealand – what are we going to do to help people?”

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