By Ric Stevens, Open Justice multimedia journalist, Te Matau a Māui (Hawke's Bay)
A 501 deportee destined for Aotearoa has been given a 'second chance' to reform his life, just a week after Australia's conservative government was ousted by the centre-left Labor party.
A New Zealander who ram-raided a Sydney car dealership during a "little crime spree" while psychotic on drugs has successfully overturned his deportation from Australia.
Trae Tupe Mehana Whiu, 27, was facing deportation under section 501 of the Australian Migration Act – the law under which thousands of New Zealanders have been sent back to their country of origin, souring relations between the two nations.
But in a close-run decision, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia has decided to give Whiu a "second chance".
"We are a nation built on second chances," the tribunal decision said in revoking the cancellation of his visa to live and work in Australia.
More than 2500 New Zealanders have been deported under section 501 since the start of 2015, despite some of them having lived in Australia for many years with little connection to their country of origin.
Whiu moved to Australia to live in 2013, at the age of 18. He has two sons there by two Australian mothers.
Both women have taken out the Australian equivalent of protection orders against him.
He has also committed offences in Queensland, the most serious of which was assault leading to bodily harm after a bunch of "Kiwi boys" got into a fight at a bar in Surfers Paradise.
While living on the Gold Coast, Whiu became a binge-drinker and regular cannabis user, the tribunal said.
He moved to Canberra around 2019, to take advantage of a boom in the construction industry, and there progressed to using "ice", or crystal methamphetamine, which he used as a stimulant to be able to work more hours.
About 4.30am on December 18, 2020, Whiu drove a stolen Volkswagen Amarok ute into the front doors of a car showroom in Waitara, northern Sydney.
He made no attempt to steal vehicles or money from the dealership but took a bumbag from behind a counter.
He then left and tried to get into a private garage using bolt-cutters.
He picked up a pre-made meal from the doorway of a nearby apartment, then went to a hotel a short distance away and fell asleep in the kitchen. Whiu was found by police still wearing the bumbag.
Court records state that his "little crime spree" was "without any logical objective", with no evidence of premeditation.
His lawyer said he had never acted like this before.
Court records said Whiu was in a drug-induced psychotic or delusional state when he committed the crimes, and had not slept for six days.
Whiu was convicted of taking a vehicle without consent, breaking and entering, entering premises without lawful excuse and shoplifting.
'We are a nation built on second chances' - Administrative Appeals Tribunal
He was sentenced in May last year to 15 months in prison. The prison sentence triggered the 501 deportation action.
Under section 501, an Australian government minister or official may cancel a person's visa if they fail a "character test", and a prison sentence of longer than 12 months is one of the test criteria.
Whiu appealed to the Australian government in June 2021 to have his visa cancellation revoked but was unsuccessful.
He then applied to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which heard his case last month. Whiu represented himself at the hearing.
The tribunal found Whiu failed the character test "by definition" because of his prison sentence but other factors weighed in his favour.
He had been in almost constant employment and "there is no suggestion of his acquisition of money by any other means," the tribunal decision said.
As for the seriousness of Whiu's offending, the tribunal "places it very much at the lower end of any scale and draws comfort from the fact that this appears to have also been the opinion of the courts".
The tribunal received a support letter from the mother of one of Whiu's former partners.
She said that after the relationship between Whiu and her daughter began to crumble, "Trae took the wrong path that led him to where he is now".
"I believe Trae will change for the good, as he is a very kind-hearted, hard-working, family person who has a lot of respect for his elders," wrote the woman, identified only as LN.
"My grandson will grow up knowing who his father is as Trae will be part of his life forever … He has been a very good father, treating his son as (the) number one priority in his life."
Despite having family violence orders in place in relation to both his former partners, the tribunal said he had never been convicted of any domestic violence offences.
The tribunal revoked Whiu's visa cancellation after assessing what it called "an exquisitely fine balance of considerations".
"There is no doubt (Whiu) has committed a number of offences," the decision said.
"But the tribunal does not believe that his overall record is so egregious that he has forfeited any second chance to get his life together, to address his issues of misuse of alcohol and other substances and to re-establish a productive life in the Australian community."
Attempts to reach Whiu for comment through a former employer in New South Wales were not successful.
The employer said that Whiu was released last week after 13 months in custody.