A man facing deportation is so desperate to stay in Australia he’s willing to remain in a detention centre he says “treats people like animals”, rather than return to New Zealand where he was born.
Billy Thornton, who has an extensive criminal history, including illicit drug use that began when he was about 12 years old, has been in Melbourne’s immigration detention centre in Broadmeadows for the past 18 months as he’s fought to keep his Australian visa.
He now looks set to remain there longer, after his latest bid failed.
Thornton was notified by Australian authorities in September 2021 that his visa was mandatorily cancelled.
His efforts to reverse the decision failed after he didn’t pass the character test, because of his past offending, including for violence which landed him in prison multiple times.
Thornton appealed the decision, but the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia has this week decided not to revoke the original decision to cancel his visa.
The tribunal found the expectations of the Australian community, and its lack of tolerance for conduct such as Thornton’s outweighed the challenges he’d face establishing himself back in New Zealand, where he had no social links.
Thornton told NZME by cell phone from the detention centre that he now planned to take his fight to the High Court in Australia, hopefully “within the next year”.
He said others in the centre had been waiting up to six years for an appeal hearing, but he was prepared to fight to stay in the country where all his family were, including his 14-year-old daughter.
“My whole life is here, in Australia. I’ve been here for 20-something years,” the 43-year-old said.
Auckland-born Thornton has lived in Australia on a special category (temporary) visa since March 2000.
He grew up in New Zealand with his parents and younger sister, although he told the tribunal he also spent time as a child living with his grandparents in Australia.
His father had since died and all remaining members of his family including his mother and sister, three uncles, three aunts, 10 cousins, and his 14-year-old daughter who lived with her mother, all lived in Australia.
Thornton told the tribunal he had worked as a cabinet maker, renderer, builder and carpenter for about half the time he’d been in Australia.
He also said he had spent time “in and out of psychiatric” wards and had at times received a disability support pension.
The tribunal said a New Zealand Police report in October 2021 detailed 12 offences committed by Thornton in New Zealand, between August 1995 and December 1998.
He was convicted and sentenced for seven of these offences, including burglary, property theft and assault with a blunt instrument.
Thornton’s criminal record in Australia listed more than 100 criminal offences between May 2001 and March 2022.
The most serious were categorised as property offences, plus drugs, violence and vehicle offences, and failure to comply with judicial and police directions and orders.
The transcript of court proceedings in July 2021 noted Thornton had been in prison seven times and there had been few times when he’d been in the community drug-free.
The court then found him unsuitable for a drug and alcohol treatment order but acknowledged his “serious and debilitating” mental health issues, and his “very long history of conflict with people” who were either family members or intimate partners.
Thornton denied reports of incidents at the detention centre, where he was said to have been aggressive and abusive toward staff, including medical staff.
He told the tribunal he believed he was “well-behaved”, but acknowledged he kicked a watercooler because “the only way to get medical help is to do something stupid”.
Thornton alleged staff at the detention centre denied him important medicine for cellulitis and that his kidneys had been at risk of shutting down, he told NZME.
The tribunal acknowledged the reports about Thornton’s behaviour at the centre but accepted there may have been extenuating circumstances.
“While not excusing his behaviour, (they) provide some context to the incidents and the stressful environment of an immigration detention centre,” the tribunal said.
Based on the evidence the tribunal concluded that protection of the Australian community from criminal or other serious conduct, and the expectations of the Australian community weighed very strongly against exercising the discretion to revoke the mandatory cancellation of Thornton’s visa.
The tribunal had to consider the extent of impediments if Thornton was removed from Australia, such as the length of his ties to Australia and the interests of minors, but combined, they were not enough to outweigh the reasons for removal.