Minister of Justice Andrew Little talking to media. (Photo: RNZ/Rebekah Parsons-King)
Ben Strang – Radio NZ Reporter
The treatment of New Zealanders in Australia will be discussed when politicians from the two countries meet next year, the Minister of Justice says. Andrew Little said the inability of New Zealanders to access legal aid and other benefits when in need would be one of the issues on the table.
Academics have said New Zealand citizens were treated worse than refugees in Australia, when they required access to legal help or living benefits.
RNZ has been looking into the stories of six women dealing with the Hague Convention after fleeing domestic violence. Each of them had been ordered back to Australia by the courts after their child’s fathers enacted the Hague Convention – an agreement formed in 1980 sending abducted children back to their place of habitual residence.
This week, Mr Little said there were provisions in the convention that protected children who could be in an intolerable situation. In the cases RNZ was alerted to, judges had not considered domestic violence against the mother as relevant.
Mr Little said documented violence against the mother should be taken into account before sending a child back. “The judge has to take into account that the child is going back into a household with a person who is demonstrably violent.”
The application of the Hague Convention in New Zealand is only one of many issues women faced when fleeing domestic violence. In the six cases RNZ has knowledge of, the women involved exhausted their options for dealing with a custody case legally in Australia.
They said they fled Australia only as a last resort, having had no benefit support when they left their abusive partner, and no access to legal aid to fight the case there.
Mr Little said the government needed to talk to Australia, and not for the first time, about its treatment of New Zealanders. “New Zealanders can go to Australia and function perfectly well without having to get citizenship, but when something goes wrong and their legal status is challenged, they have very few rights.
“It is an issue that the New Zealand Government, under successive governments, have been taking up with Australia for some years now.”
Discussions are expected to take place next year, although with an Australian election coming, Mr Little was not sure when.
‘We need to educate judges’
Gina Masterton is a PHD student at Griffith University in Queensland and has been studying the Hague Convention and its effect on New Zealanders.
It was an issue that had been swept under the carpet, Ms Masterton said. “It’s a violation of human rights, I think,” Ms Masterton said. “It needs to get a lot more media attention [in Australia], and the actual Hague Convention itself is under the radar.”
Sudha Shetty is the world’s leading academic on Hague Convention cases, working out of the University of California, Berkeley. She said judges needed more guidance on dealing with the Hague Convention, and suggested New Zealand could follow Britain in having a special panel of judges appointed to deal with Hague Convention cases.
“We need to educate judges because he could get one Hague case in his entire lifetime.”
Mr Little said a panel of judges who were Hague Convention experts would be a good idea.
In 2017, there were 34 Hague Convention applications made seeking the extradition of a child from New Zealand to another nation, of which just 10 were declined. Ms Masterton said her research suggested 70 percent of Hague Convention cases involved a woman fleeing domestic violence.
[Read the full Radio NZ article].