Labour MP Kelvin Davis is giving this country good value for his seat in Parliament. He has gone to Christmas Island in an attempt to see the conditions faced by Australia's detainees being held for possible deportation to New Zealand. He got there on Saturday as John Key was in talks on this issue in Auckland with the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. Mr Key dismissed Mr Davis' trip as a political stunt but privately he might have welcomed it.
It can have done Mr Key no harm in his efforts to convince his Australian counterpart of the depth of feeling in New Zealand on this issue. Diplomatic considerations would preclude an MP from the Government going to knock on the doors of detention camps. But the Government is not answerable for the actions of Opposition members. It is good to see one of them making the most of their position.
If it seems a long way to go with no guarantee of admission to the detention centre, Mr Davis' trip has been worth it. Imagine if an Opposition MP from Australia came knocking at a New Zealand facility with concern for the conditions faced by Australians being held there? No matter how much the Government resented the MP's presence, it would find it an embarrassment and face awkward questions in Parliament and from the media.
Obviously, members of the Opposition need to be careful before they embark on freebooting expeditions such as this. They could easily do some damage to New Zealand's interests in a foreign country for the sake of gaining some attention at home. This trip appears to carry no such risk. It is a useful, constructive initiative on the part of Mr Davis, or somebody on his side, and serves New Zealand's interests well.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
Direct diplomacy is of limited value on this issue, as the meeting of the prime ministers confirmed. Mr Turnbull has agreed to try to speed up the consideration of appeals against deportation to reduce the period of detention, which is probably the most the public opinion in Australia will permit him to do. Australians need to be convinced that Kiwis who have been there a long time and committed a crime (or crimes) deserve a break.
It is much harder to make this case than to argue New Zealanders should be eligible for Australian benefits, and that has been hard enough. At the weekend, Mr Turnbull announced they will become eligible for Australia's tertiary education loans, though not its living allowance or rent assistance. But when non-citizens commit a crime, most people will feel they should be sent back to where they came from, no matter how long ago. Some New Zealanders say so about long-term residents from the Pacific.
But deportation does not require detention, especially of long-established residents. Mr Davis is observing what he can of the conditions in which detainees are being held. The worst feature of Christmas Island, he says, may be its distance from their homes in Australia - much further away than New Zealand and in the opposite direction. If he can arouse some concern in Australia, he will have served us well.