Something is seriously wrong with international justice when a criminal who has spent almost her entire life in an adopted country can be deported to the country of her birth. We are talking, of course, about Patricia Carol Toia, who has been an Australian to all intents and purposes for all but the first 18 months of her 26 years. She is, in the words of her own lawyer, a "human crime wave" and now she is coming "home" - to New Zealand.

There seems nothing this country can do about the decision of the Australian Administrative Appeals Tribunal which has found that she fails a character test for the right to retain her Australian visa. She has served more than 30 jail terms in Australia for crimes that include robbery, assault and drug trafficking. She has a history of drug abuse and a criminal record that runs to 30 pages. Soon she will land on our streets where she probably knows no one, has no home, no work, no choice, perhaps, but to use her worst skills for survival.

Deportation is a valid response for any country faced with an offender who has entered as an adult and proved unwilling to abide by its laws. But this young woman was taken to Australia as a baby. She has grown up entirely in that country. Her schooling, conditioning, social supports and criminal punishments were the products of Australia. It is a little late to decide, after 26 years and 30 prison sentences, that she is New Zealand's responsibility after all. If deportation was ever considered a positive step in her case, it would have happened much earlier in her criminal career. When it is ordered at this late stage, it is done for one reason - because Australia has given up on her and has no further hope of her rehabilitation. She is being dumped here because Australia no longer cares.

She will begin life here with a clean slate officially, which means she could restart her career of offending and receive relatively light sentences to begin with. There is evidently no transtasman arrangement for the supervision of extradited criminals. Her case might at least bring about a change in that regard. Foreign Minister Phil Goff contemplates passing a law to put New Zealanders deported from Australia on parole for a period after their arrival.

To do that requires the co-operation of Australian states, which dispense criminal justice. Mr Goff says he has given up trying to get the states to extend their parole provisions to New Zealand for those they deport here. Instead he will try to set up a New Zealand-controlled regime based on information that could be supplied by the Australian authorities if they would take the trouble. He raised the subject in his meeting with the federal Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, at Waiheke at the weekend. Mr Downer was asked to get his officials to let New Zealand know whether the material on deportees can be supplied. It is surely the least we can ask.

Australia, with its arbitrary deportation policy for all foreign offenders, might be more rigid in this regard than New Zealand but there are many in this country, too, who are quick to urge deportation whenever an offender has foreign citizenship. It is instructive to be on the receiving end of a case such as this. Pacific Island states, for example, must often feel they are being forced to receive back citizens who have learned their behaviour in the environment they found here. Deportation could be a rehabilitative opportunity for some, but it is the incorrigible who are more likely to be sent back where they came from.

It ought to be an article of international law that those who offend against any country's code are not returned to their country of origin without the sort of liaison and information that Mr Goff has sought from Australia. To return a person cold to a country they scarcely know is not fair to the country or the person. It is a recipe for further crime, further social damage and personal misfortune when it could be, with a little co-operation between countries, a chance to help the returnee make a fresh start.