Arrested in Australia, sent to Christmas Island

A New Zealand man who went to Queensland on a family visit now finds himself detained on remote Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was arrested over a historical sex assault allegation.

He was held in custody for two months and granted bail but had his visa revoked his lawyer, says Bruce Peters of Brisbane.

"A Supreme Court Justice said he should never have been refused bail in the first place and then the Minister (of Immigration Peter Dutton) steps in and says, 'I don't care, I'm going to take him into detention'."

The man could not be deported because of the charges, but was refused a justice visa which would have allowed him out on bail while Mr Peters prepared for court. As it was, speaking to him on the island was difficult.

"All I can say is this, if you're a foreigner - even a New Zealander - coming over to Australia and you break the law here, if it's a jailable offence you could be put in detention before your matter is brought to court."

It did not seem to matter if the charges were relatively minor, Mr Peters says, adding the New Zealander faced charges not serious enough to warrant extradition.

Mr Peters says he was seeking legal aid to challenge the detention as unlawful, and if that worked and the man was released he would then be deported.

"I said 'look, if you can get yourself deported ... you'll never come back to Australia, are you all right with that?' And he said 'bloody oath'."

Australia's Immigration Department said it did not talk about individual cases.

It would not answer RNZ's question about how serious a criminal charge had to be to result in a situation where a visiting New Zealander could be detained indefinitely on character grounds.

No date had been set for the next court hearing, and Mr Peters said it was proving very difficult to prepare for because he had no secure, confidential means of talking to the man.

The department said lawyers could contact detainees using landline phones, video conferencing and the internet.

Total detainee numbers on Christmas Island have been rising and are at 328, double what they were after the November 2015 riot there. Numbers recently dropped slightly at four of the five mainland detention centres.

Australian Immigration refused to say how many of the 178 New Zealand citizens in detention were held on the island. The average length of detention in all centres is 14 months.

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