Questions of fairness: New Zealander experiences of Section 501 and the case of Shane Martin

‘Australians should take note of this case. The issues here ought to be enough to cause alarm in all Australians and get them to ask questions.’ We should heed this call by Jarrod Gilbert in Shane Martin’s new biography, A Rebel in Exile. Australians should take note, and consider the plight of long-term residents who have their visa cancelled on character grounds and who may then be deported under Section 501 of the Migration Act. What all these cases raise are fundamental questions of fairness.

Shane Martin is Australia’s most high-profile deportation case because he is the father of AFL super star and Brownlow medallist, Dustin Martin; because he is a leading and lifetime member of the Rebels motorcycle club; and because he who was a long-term resident of Australia when his visa was cancelled, in 2016. His biography concentrates on his life in Australia and deportation experience and was co-written with Jarrod Gilbert, a sociologist from the University of Canterbury who provides commentary on the political and policy context surrounding bikie and criminal deportation legislative developments.

The deportation made headlines in both Australia and New Zealand. It shone a spotlight on s501 deportations and the particular impact this policy has on the human rights of New Zealanders living in Australia. Section 501 of the Migration Act 1958 (s501) is the so-called ‘character test’. Since the law was amended in 2014 with the introduction of mandatory visa cancellation powers and visa cancellation on suspicion of criminal activity, there has been an increase of 1400 per cent in the number of s501 visa cancellations and deportations of convicted non-citizens from Australia. The majority are New Zealanders.

visa cancellations and removals
Source: Department of Home Affairs

Australia’s visa cancellation and deportation system against convicted non-citizens is aimed at maximizing opportunities for deportation at the expense of fairness. The system has been set up and continues to evolve around the construction of convicted non-citizens as risk to the Australian community, at the expense of their human rights. The recent amendments of s501 have expanded the grounds for visa cancellation – including against individuals who haven’t committed a crime – and narrowed opportunities to consider mitigating circumstances. As exemplified in Martin’s case, under s501 (501A and 501B), the Minister is empowered to make personal visa cancellation decisions which do not allow for an appeal process and therefore to an opportunity for consideration of mitigating circumstances. The system is weighted far too heavily towards the reduction of risk via deportation and away from important values enshrined in international human rights laws to which Australia is signatory, including rights to rehabilitation, family and social cohesion, due process and the rights of children. This is reflected in the visa cancellation decision-making guidance. This is divided into primary – focused on risk reduction and protection of the Australian community – and ‘other’ considerations, associated with mitigating factors. Primary considerations, of course, carry the greatest weight.

Martin’s case mirrors the experience of over 1600 New Zealanders who have been deported from Australia since the 2014 changes to s501. Since December 2014, visas are mandatorily cancelled for convictions resulting in a sentence of at least 12 months imprisonment. Some, however, like Martin or Aaron Joe Graham and Mehaka Te Puia, have their visa cancelled and are deported on the basis of criminal suspicion or suspicion of criminal association, without being charged with any criminal offence. Regardless of how a visa cancellation decision is made, individuals will be placed on a deportation pathway without regard for their human rights or living circumstances.

Whatever case may be made for criminal deportation for serious offenders and shorter-term residents, the current policy has seen others deported for minor offending and without having committed any offence at all. The majority of New Zealanders deported from Australia are long-term residents who have lived in Australia for a period of 10 years or more (1). They have strong ties and have made economic and social contributions to the Australian community. As a matter of fairness, Australia should take responsibility for the social conditions that have contributed to offending, or suspicion of offending, of long-term residents.

There is limited sympathy for s501 deportees from the Australian government, media and the community, and bikies especially, as Martin has occasion to reflect:

We were outraged by it all – the deportations, the laws and the over-the-top policing – but nobody else seemed to care about it. The cops and the politicians had convinced the public that we were the devil, so they were happy to see us suffer.

Convicted non-citizens subjected to s501 experience differential treatment and punishment to that of citizens in addition to their prison sentence on the basis of their migration status. Deported New Zealanders who are found guilty of crimes effectively experience ‘quadruple punishments’ in the form of deportation followed – upon return to New Zealand – by a prison sentence, indefinite immigration detention and community-based controls.

The current practice around the use of Section 501 compels us to consider questions of fairness. Is visa cancellation and removal of convicted non-citizens who are long-term residents of Australia fair? Is visa cancellation in the absence of a criminal offence fair? Where crimes have been committed, is it fair that Australia takes no responsibility for the conduct of long-term residents? Is a visa cancellation decision made personally by the Immigration Minister, which then restricts access to an appeal process, fair? Is it fair that New Zealanders should effectively experience a ‘quadruple punishment’ for their criminal offending, or suspicion of it? Is tearing a person away from a country they call home, their children, partner, family, business and livelihood fair? Martin says of himself: ‘People think I’m a scumbag, but I’m just a bloke who loves his kids. Bikies are people too.’ He is one of many hundreds New Zealanders who have been deported from Australia, and his experience reminds us of what is true and deserves compassion.


(1) While it is difficult to find exact numbers and statistics of the number of long term New Zealander residents of Australia who have their visa cancelled under s501, analysis of all publicly available New Zealander s501 appeal cases at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) show that since 2014, (2015–2018), the number of long term residents is at 70% or above of all New Zealander appeals cases. Note that not all AAT cases are publicly available.


Rebecca Powell

Rebecca Powell is the Managing-Director of the Border Crossing Observatory and the Research and Centre Manager of the Monash Migration and Inclusion Centre at Monash University. She is completing a PhD with Monash Criminology titled ‘I still call Australia home: Balancing risk and human rights in the deportation of convicted non-citizens from Australia to New Zealand’.

More by Rebecca Powell ›

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  1. Thank you for bringing to light this inhumane and should destroying law. My partner who was born in Fiji and came here at the age of 18 months was deported back to his country of birth in Oct 2016, after living here in Oz for 36 1/2 yrs. He was left in Nadi with no accomodation, $AUD200 and not knowing the language or the culture. he was left stranded in a foreign country. He has left an 18 and 11 year old (they were 15 and 8) behind. He spent 23 months in Villawood and was not allowed to come home to attend his Fathers funeral, see our son graduate from high school or this year watch our daughter graduate from Yr 6. This law has seen our family break apart as it is so expensive to visit him and our son’s autism prevents him from travelling due to high anxiety and reluctance the leave home. My partner still calls Australia home and would do anything to be able to come home. Our daughter has had to see psychologists to try and understand how, and why this has happened. She still can’t understand (nor can I) why he will never be allowed home. He and many others like him are PRODUCTS OF AUSTRALIA, their’s and thousands of Australian born children’s human rights are been violated to the highest degree and I hope your research will encourage others to investigate and bring to light, but also put an end to this torturous law and bring home the many deported.

  2. I think everyone is forgetting about his son Bronson. How do you think his parents, brothers, cousins and uncle felt when he was in Afghanistan fighting with the Australian army. They would have all been thinking is he going to be coming home dead or alive. And this is the thanks he gets from the Australian Government, deporting his dad two months after he gets back. It’s absolutely disgraceful

  3. My son was deported under S116 in Nov2017 whilst on bail awaiting his trial. He was 21 years old and had been in Australia since he was 6. No ties to NZ and no criminal record. His charges for which he was on bail for have subsequently been dropped. Yet the decision to cancel his visa won’t be reversed. It does not seem fair to me. He was in the 4th year of his apprenticeship which he lost. He has gone on to make a life for himself
    In NZ and is currently travelling round the world. Just not Australia, the place he calls home. He would dearly love to come home, even just for a visit but we are not holding our breath.

  4. I had been in Australia gor 38 years, im a grandfather and they still put me inti Villawood detention centre then threatened me to difn s volutary deportation order.
    They have since sent me a letter saying that im alliwes back to Oz and to carty on as if it never happened.
    They destroyed my family and we are still suffering.

  5. My partner is in yondgan hills he’s been in Australia for 22 yrs from NZ I’m the carer to his 4 children and grandson and my 3 children, his late partner passed away in 2012. We are still waiting to hear if he’s being deported, we had contact visits for 11 1/2 mths he was in jail, now we aren’t aloud contact visits and that is way to hard on the kids not being able to hug their dad/stepdad. We haven’t visited because the 1 time we had a non contact visit because my 14yr old had a water balloon from science class in her pocket tested negative for drugs and had nothing in it, the kids cried and it was hell not being able to hug him, so 6 weeks we have been waiting to hear anything. The system needs to change andit needs to stop treating family’s like shit.

  6. My son was deported 2018,had 8 court cases a trial in June 2019 all were dismissed on the 3rd..has now been told when he comes back in 2 years time..he will be arrested for not attending those court cases cos he now has a warrant out for him. .
    What heartless people.

  7. I don’t know what to say but I know I am in the same some off anyone situation been here 23 years have family out their with community and been detained in villa wood 18 months when though to court 3 time got dismissed now I’m facing to deportation back to where I come from and leave my 4/5 year old daughter here without me so I’m feeling darkness of all the rest off my life I don’t know how and when can’t see her again this law and system it’s so wrong and destroy my life and take away my love one family separate now I have to fears and live like so painful .

  8. I have been in Australia 43 yrs. Coming here as a child. I have had my own business for 25yrs employing many people over that time. My house got broken into and the junkie that did it got assaulted i got sent to jail for it. I didn’t assault him and the people that did admitted it and went to jail. So not only was i sent to jail. My house was burgled and he was never charged. I lost the business and all assets whilst in jail. That would be over a million dollars. My only crime was to threaten the person who broke into my house. Fair enough you shouldn’t threaten someone with a baseball bat. But he broke into my house stole cash computers phone and my car. He gets off scott free i go to jail and trying to deport me. I have children a new partner with step children elderly parents all here trying to get by whilst i am locked up. There is no justice to that at all.

  9. Supposedly ive been deported as an illegal alien…55yrs in Australia married..3kids 4grnd kids…gr8txxxgrandfather govener of aust..i worked 33yrs govt criminal convictions nz or aust..18mnths locked in 3 detention camps when i lived in WA…deported to family or friends.. im in my 70’s.. the AAT hearing was appalling..documents had me down as a male refugee from sri lanka…AAT said it was probably a cut and paste ertor…im just trying to stay safe in a meth ridden country…exile is not something to just get over. A dam cruel thing to do….if u hav money for lawyers u hav a chance if u hav the $80,000 bribe fee you will stay..

  10. The Deportatation of a long term residents regardless where they are from is a crime against humanity.
    It is a second punishment to their convictions. Australia should take responsibility for these men and women. Most of who were children when they moved to Australia.The 10 year rule should apply to all migrants no matter of their background.

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