Former Lance Corporal Ko Rutene is being detained in Casuarina maximum security prison in Perth. Photo / Supplied
Former Lance Corporal Ko Rutene is being detained in Casuarina maximum security prison in Perth. Photo / Supplied NZ Herald

Decorated NZ soldier detained in Aussie prision

A FORMER New Zealand soldier who served in Afghanistan is being detained in Australia despite the fact he's committed no crime.

Former Lance Corporal Ko Rutene - who is also known as Ngati Kanohi Te Eke Haapu - has never served jail time in Australia but is now in a high-security prison because he failed character tests.

He has had his visa revoked because he is a member of the Rebels motorcycle club.

Mr Rutene has fallen foul of Australia's anti-gang laws and was taken to Casuarina prison in Perth last month.

His lawyer, Michael Pena-Rees, said that the former lance corporal was part of the "Quick Reaction Force", which rescued troops that came under attack from insurgents.

He said that Mr Rutene, who moved to Australia in 2012, had no criminal record and had an "exceptional good character".

"The Rebels OMC is not a criminal organisation in Western Australia," he said.

"To be a risk to national security because of his connection to an outlaw motorcycle club is an abhorrent and ill-conceived decision in light of the fact that Ko is a decorated ex-soldier, who, as part of the ANZAC spirit, served overseas for the same reasons as Australia and its soldiers.

"It is extraordinary that the minister (Dutton) did not have the background information for Ko when applying his discretionary decision. It should be commended to any person in authority that Ko be released immediately back into the community pending his judicial review of the minister's decision."

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox quizzed Prime Minister John Key on Mr Rutene's case during question time yesterday but Mr Key said he did not have "the details of his case".

Labour corrections spokesman Kelvin Davis said the detaining of Mr Rutene was an example of the "politics of fear".

"It's pretty damn s*** to be honest. It's basically saying you look scary, so we're going to lock you up," he said. "I don't really know his background at all so I don't want to comment on the specifics. I don't know him so I'm not qualified to talk."

Mr Davis said a number of the men being kept at the Christmas Island detention centre - some of whom had committed minor offences - were upset at being thought of as rapists or murders.

"In the meetings I had with them I said 'I want to know, are you an axe murderer or a rapist or anything' and they said 'No, that's the thing we're all being told we're murderers and rapists'. They were upset about it too.

"I got another Facebook yesterday from the father of another one of the guys on Christmas Island...He said my son is not a murderer or rapist, and he's just so upset that he's being tarred with the same brush."

'We don't like this policy'

Mr Key has come under pressure over Australia's detention of New Zealand citizens. Australian laws introduced last year to crack down on foreign-born criminals gives Australia's Immigration Minister Peter Dutton the power to deport anyone with a 12-month sentence who didn't have Australian citizenship, no matter how long they had lived in the country.

Mr Key said this morning that his Government was not supportive of Australia sending New Zealanders to Christmas Island: "We don't like this policy. The whole way through we've said we don't like New Zealanders being sent there. We don't like what's happening.

"My point is simply this if you are someone being sent to Christmas Island you don't need to go there. You can come back to New Zealand and you can come back in a few days, if you have no issues, or potentially a few weeks. So people are electing to stay there."

He denied that Kiwis had held for up to 20 weeks. "It's a couple of weeks and here's the reason why it could take a couple of weeks. It's the seriousness of the people that we're dealing with. Firstly, they may not have a passport because it may have been cancelled a while ago. Secondly, they may have mental health issues or a history of violence, we can't put them on a commercial plane.

"I actually have a responsibility to the New Zealanders they are coming home to, to make sure sure that they are safe. And that means I've got to put protection around these people, make sure there's supervision around them."

He added that he did not have the breakdown of who was on Christmas Island.

"We don't have the breakdown ... we have asked for that information and they haven't given it to us by New Zealanders on Christmas Island. When we spoke to [Australian Prime Minister] Malcolm Turnbull about the issue, he said to us, 'The people who are going to Christmas Island are people that have either caused issues in other detention centres or alternatively are serious.'"

He added: "In our view, none of them should be on Christmas Island. But that's the point they don't have to be on it."

High tension

Opposition leader Andrew Little is preparing to do what he says the Government has failed to by heading to Canberra in person and pleading expatriate New Zealanders' case at the heart of Australia's Government.

Amid high tension in Parliament yesterday over Labour's advocacy for deportees, Mr Little confirmed he would appear before an Australian select committee in two weeks' time to lobby for expats' rights.

In a rare move, Mr Little will urge Australian MPs in person to address discrimination against Kiwis who live and pay tax in Australia but receive little state support.

"Most of the Australian backbenchers are stunned to hear of New Zealanders' treatment," he told the Herald. "That's why we made the judgment to get in front of the select committee formally and lay it on the table."

The main focus of Labour's submission will be on unfair treatment of New Zealanders across the Tasman.

But Mr Little said his submission would also be coloured by recent events involving New Zealanders at Australian detention centres.

"It wasn't our intention to focus on the detention issue but it may well be that it's difficult to avoid that," he said.

The issue exploded in Parliament yesterday in an extraordinary showdown.

Mr Davis confronted the Prime Minister on his way into the House, calling him "gutless" over his inaction on New Zealanders' treatment at the Christmas Island detention centre.

Mr Key, apparently rattled, launched a furious attack on Labour once inside the House. He accused Mr Davis and his party of supporting rapists, child molesters and murderers instead of New Zealanders who needed protecting.

The comment was met with uproar by the Opposition. One Labour MP was kicked out and others staged a walk-out at the "deeply offensive" outburst.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said Mr Key had "lost the plot".

The Prime Minister's office later released figures which showed that out of 585 New Zealanders facing deportation, 34 had been convicted of child sex offences, 22 convicted of murder, and 16 convicted for rape or sex offences.

Justice Minister Amy Adams said Mr Dutton had assured her yesterday that New Zealand detainees who elected to return home could do so within days or weeks, not months.

Mr Dutton also told her that their appeals against deportation would not be prejudiced if they returned to New Zealand, and that Australia would pay for their travel.

- NZ Herald

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