Senator Ian Macdonald.
Senator Ian Macdonald. Chris Ison

Australian senator to NZ: 'join us'

MOST Australians would support hardworking Kiwis becoming citizens - and if New Zealand wants closer ties it should become his country's seventh and eighth state, an Australian senator who helped review tough new deportation rules says.

Ian Macdonald, who chaired the parliamentary committee that recommended a new law that has led to the detention and deportation of New Zealanders, said Labour leader Andrew Little's calls for, among other improved rights, access to citizenship for Kiwi expats would be uncontroversial with most Australians.

"The issue of closer ties with New Zealand is one beyond any limited expertise I might have, but as an observer...I would love to have New Zealand join us perhaps as the seventh and eighth state - you can have two. And what a wonderful country it would then be, and I wouldn't need a passport to get across to Queenstown with the wineries, it would be great."

Mr Little and his MP and recently-confirmed Auckland mayoralty candidate Phil Goff will appear tomorrow before two committees in Canberra, as well as meet with Opposition leader Bill Shorten and Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

The primary purpose of the trip is to highlight the lack of rights between an estimated 250,000 to 350,000 Kiwis living in Australia on "non protected" visas have - including little welfare safety nets, and no automatic path to permanent residency or citizenship.

Both Labour and National-led Governments have been lobbying for change since Kiwis' rights were greatly reduced in February 2001 by John Howard's Liberal Government.

Mr Little will also talk to Mr Dutton about a new law, introduced last December, that enables the deportation of non-Australians who are sentenced cumulatively to a year or more in prison, or who are judged to fail character tests.

He will ask for better discretion to be exercised at the point of revoking a visa.

Mr Macdonald, a Liberal senator from Northern Queensland, told the Herald that, in his view, any appeals to significantly change the policy would be unsuccessful.

"There has been a feeling building up in Australia for a long period of time that people who are not Australians and who break our laws, should go back to their country of origin. If they don't like the Australian way of life...they have an alternative, and that is to go back to where they came from.

"I hasten to add that whilst I chair a Parliamentary committee that oversights this part of government administration...I am not a member of the executive government...but I would think, from my knowledge of [Mr Dutton] and what I have seen of his public comments, I don't think he is going to take a view any different to the one I have just expressed."

Asked if it was fair for Australia to deport people who had left New Zealand at a very young age, Mr Macdonald questioned why they had not become citizens.

"If they are so embedded in Australia, if it is where all their support and family is, why the hell haven't they taken the step of becoming Australian citizens and getting a vote?"

Despite calls from advocacy groups such as Oz Kiwi and both the National Government and Labour for a clearer path to citizenship for Kiwi expats, Mr Macdonald said the issue was not one he was aware of.

"My impression has been that they [citizenship criteria] are never terribly arduous for anybody, and New Zealanders would start ahead of the eight ball in understanding how it all works. Nobody has ever approached me in my capacity as a Parliamentarian, from New Zealand, to ask if I could help them, and that the test was too high."

Kiwi expats' rights in Australia has become a political issue in recent weeks. While in Manila for an Apec summit Prime Minister John Key told media that he sensed Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull could move on giving a clearer path to citizenship, as an alternative to changing the threshold at which deportations occur.

And on Monday he took a swipe at Mr Little's Canberra trip, saying it could jeopardise progress being made by the Government's quiet diplomacy.

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