Peter Dutton has accused the Labor Party of prioritising the wishes of New Zealand over Australia, as he fights to kick more foreign-born criminals out of the country.
The home affairs minister is unhappy Labor is pushing back against government legislation to tighten the character test for non-citizens in Australia.
“The Labor Party, Kristina Keneally, is opposed to that because she says it will offend New Zealand,” Mr Dutton told 2GB radio on Thursday.
“The fact is we’re elected to represent the interests of Australians and my job is to keep our country as safe as possible.
“That she would act in New Zealand’s interests over Australia’s interests is unbelievable.”
More than 4500 people have been deported under existing “bad character” laws.
“I think honestly we’ve saved victims from suffering at the hands of many of those criminals who would have gone on to repeat their crimes,” Mr Dutton said.
Under the proposed changes, people will automatically fail the character test if convicted of various crimes which carry prison terms of two or more years, even if they spend less time behind bars.
Labor opposes the bill, arguing the government already has the power to deport crooks.
It has also warned of the diplomatic fallout, with New Zealand often describing Australia’s existing deportation scheme as “corrosive” to the trans-Tasman relationship.
Labor wants to remove the law’s retrospective nature, keep the current definition of a “serious crime” to cover people sentenced to at least a year in prison, and take into account the impact on Kiwis.
Immigration Minister David Coleman urged the opposition to exercise “common sense”.
“The only people this Bill affects are non-citizens convicted of serious crimes involving violence, sexual offences, weapons offences or breaches of AVOs,” Mr Coleman said.
“These are not victimless crimes. They are crimes that leave long lasting trauma on their victims and those committing them are not welcome in our country.”
The legislation passed the lower house on Thursday and now heads to the Senate.