Section 501: The doco finding hope in Australia's draconian deportation law

by Catherine Woulfe / 01 September, 2018
Boggo Rd Gaol in Brisbane. Photo/Getty Images

Boggo Rd Gaol in Brisbane. Photo/Getty Images

RelatedArticlesModule - Section 501 documentary Australia

Mark and Josh are two of the 1300 or so Kiwis sent back to New Zealand from Australia. Section 501 tells their stories.

Mark is knackered and more than a bit stunned. He arrived in Aotearoa this morning and he has no money, no family here and nowhere to stay. His whole life is back in Australia: that’s where he’s lived for the past 32 years; he has a daughter there, family. But he’s just been deported and he can never go back.

Given the circumstances he’s rather circumspect.

“I’m a bit dirty on Australia at the moment. I thought we were Anzacs. Something went wrong there.”

Mark is one of more than 1300 Kiwis whom Australia has dumped back in New Zealand under controversial legislation it introduced in 2014. Any non-citizen sentenced to more than 12 months in an Aussie prison is now subject to deportation – even if they’ve served that sentence years ago. The move has seen hundreds of lives uprooted and families split apart. Justice Minister Andrew Little has called it “draconian”; according to Mark, “Australia does not care”.

Section 501 (Māori TV, Monday, 8.30pm) is the name of both the law and this terrific documentary, which follows Mark and another deportee, Josh, as they find their feet in Auckland.

This is a story about justice, not who deserves it, so there’s little attention on what the men did to wind up in prison across the Ditch. Those old familiar cycles are made clear, though: broken families, addictions and poverty.

Mark.

Mark.

And small moments hit home: Josh, nervous as anything at a job interview, wiping non-existent crumbs off the table; eating his meals at the City Mission; explaining, quietly, that his wife and children won’t be joining him in New Zealand.

He walks past lots of homeless people, he says, and it makes him anxious. He knows he’s one misstep away from joining them. “I don’t want to end up like that.”

Both Mark and Josh rely at first on rehabilitation organisation People At Risk Solutions, and although they’ve done their prison time, they’re subject to probation.

Josh.

Josh.

“I feel like that, in itself, is another sentence,” Mark says.

It’s a sentiment that underpins this show, but there’s a thread, too, of just how resilient these men are – of how a life can be rebuilt from scratch.

Mark lights up when he meets a bunch of mates who have also been deported to Auckland; Josh reconnects with whānau in Waihi, and finds real solace in a tikanga programme.

“I have found a little bit of peace and tranquillity.”

It’s a start.

This article was first published in the September 1, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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