MELBOURNE (AFP) - Australia on Friday (July 19) defended a hardline policy of deporting Kiwi convicts, despite warnings from New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern that the issue is damaging trans-Tasman relations.
Australia in 2014 introduced mandatory deportation for foreign nationals who received jail terms totalling 12 months or more, with New Zealanders the nationality most affected.
About 1,500 Kiwis have been caught in the dragnet, almost half the total of 4,000, and Wellington has raised concerns that many of those deported grew up in Australia and have no ties to New Zealand.
Australia's Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton denied New Zealanders were being singled out and said the policy would not change.
"If you come as a New Zealand citizen, or a Brit, wherever you come from, your country of origin is where you go back to if you have committed a crime," he told Channel Nine.
Mr Dutton said his government was determined to "stand up for Australians".
"Where we've got Australian citizens who are falling victim in certain circumstances where people are sexually offending against children, for example, we've had a big push to try to deport those paedophiles," he said.
Mr Dutton's remarks came after Ms Ardern aired concerns about the policy ahead of a meeting on Friday with Australian counterpart Scott Morrison in Melbourne.
"It's having a corrosive effect on our relationship, so I'll continue to raise it," she told reporters Thursday.
Ms Ardern employed the same blunt language she used at a meeting with Mr Morrison in Auckland in February, when the Australian leader stood awkwardly while she ticked him off at a joint press conference.
New Zealand and Australia offer each other automatic residency rights and almost 700,000 Kiwis have made the trip over the Tasman Sea to take advantage of their larger neighbour's economy.
However, they remain New Zealand citizens without access to welfare in Australia and can be summarily deported to their homeland.
While some deportees are hardened criminals, there have been many stories of people deported over relatively minor offences such as shoplifting and low-level fraud.
New Zealand has a policy of not deporting Australian criminals if they have been in the country for a decade and wants Canberra to reciprocate.
Instead, Australia has already introduced laws that broaden ministerial scope to order the deportation of criminals.
The issue has become a long-term irritant in the normally cordial relationship, attracting strong criticism from both the conservative administration of former prime minister John Key and Ms Ardern's progressive government.