Discussions are ongoing with Australia about the deportation of New Zealand citizens and progress has been made, Prime Minister Bill English says.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman, which investigates complaints about Australian Government agencies, has released a report that is highly critical of the treatment of people who have had their Australian visas cancelled after being jailed for 12 cumulative months or more, or failing a character test.

The report found that, of the 1219 non-citizens who had their visas cancelled between January 2014 and February 2016, 697 were from New Zealand.

It found that there were serious delays in deciding the outcome of appeals against deportation, meaning people were being held for long periods in immigration detention centres.


Only rarely had the Australian Government cancelled visas before a person's expected release from prison so that any appeal process could be worked through while they were in prison, the report found.

"The delays in deciding revocation requests undermines the department's policy of giving primary consideration to the best interests of those who have young children and/or experience prolonged family separation," Commonwealth Ombudsman Colin Neave said.

English is in Europe for his first official trip as Prime Minister, and told reporters he had not been briefed on the new report.

There was "ongoing discussion" with Australia on the deportation issue, he said.

"There has been a lot of progress made in the last couple of years, particularly with Prime Minister Turnbull, making sure the Australian system pays attention to it. Pipelines are better. But there will be ongoing issues."

The Government has put more money into Corrections and other services to cope with the high number of deportees coming from Australia, many of whom have few family links here and are at high risk of re-offending.

Former Prime Minister John Key hosted Turnbull in Auckland in October 2015, and pushed for the threshold at which Kiwis were deported to be softened.

That should be done in recognition of the special relationship the two countries have, Key argued.

However, Turnbull declined, saying it was Australia's "absolutely legitimate sovereign right" to revoke visas should the holder commit a crime.

He promised to put more resources into the appeal process so it could be carried out more quickly, and to clear a backlog that had resulted from the law change in December 2014.

However, the number of New Zealanders held in detention centres has not declined significantly since then.

As of November 30, 1414 people were in Australian immigration detention centres such as Christmas Island. Most - 13 per cent or 184 - were New Zealanders. The next most common nationality was Iranian.

In October 2015, 213 Kiwis were being held.