Justice Minister Andrew Little has met with Australia's Immigration Minister Peter Dutton face to face after an angry war of words over the deportations policy but was unable to budge Australia's stand.

Little has returned from a security conference in Indonesia after being evacuated from Lombok with Dutton following a major earthquake.

He and Dutton met on the side-lines of that conference to discuss recent exchanges on Australia's policy of deporting New Zealand citizens on grounds of bad character or if they had been sentenced to more than a year in prison.

He said it was good to "clear the air", although he had not managed to budge Australia's stance.

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"We met one on one so we could have a robust discussion. One of the things we both agreed on was that some of the language and expression that has been public on the issue probably hasn't been helpful in trying to move the thing forward.

It was a good useful discussion. They are totally committed to the law, but equally they know there are going to more deportations, more New Zealanders are going to be concerned about what is going on so this issue won't go away."

He said he accepted the law was not going to change, but equally the New Zealand government had to be able to discharge his responsibility to New Zealand citizens to advocate on their behalf.

Given that, there needed to be a forum in which the two governments could discuss the issue in future.

Little would not say whether it was his language or Dutton's which was least helpful.

In the lead up to the meeting, Little had been strongly critical of Dutton and the policy in the media, describing it as "venal" politics.

Dutton bridled at those claims, saying he would be "disappointed" if Little repeated them. He had also said New Zealand needed to bear in mind that Australia did most of the "heavy lifting" in the region when it came to defence, surveillance and border control.

Any rapprochement was possibly helped by the earthquake that hit Lombok as those at the security conference were dining on the top level of a hotel.

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Dutton and Little were evacuated together with some officials in a police vehicle to the airport within a couple of hours of the earthquake. They were flown to Bali.

Little said an RAAF plane was at the airport for Dutton and Dutton offered him a lift out, but that plane was unable to leave that night.

Instead Little was offered a ride to Bali in a plane organised by an Indonesian Government minister, who had three spare seats.

"My Indonesian counterpart – the Minister of Law and Human Affairs – had arranged for a wealthy friend of his to send his private jet up to Lombok to pick him and his Indonesian delegation up."

"I'm pleased to say as a result of the one on one meeting we had as well as the meeting with officials as well as the events that followed, the Anzac spirit is well and truly in play."

Little said the quake was a "terrifying experience" and he felt lucky to be safe.

"We were on the top level of a building that was shaking violently, throwing people to the ground – pretty much everyone around me. It got to the point I wondered if the building was going to hold up if it went on much longer. At that point it stopped."

He said it was "chaos" on the streets as people tried to flee the city but it was dark so he could not see the extent of the damage to buildings.