As those of you on Twitter will have seen, I made it safely into Melbourne yesterday. There were no hassles getting into the country. This was all down to very slight differences in wording on the landing cards.
The Australian landing card has a question that asks whether you have any criminal convictions. That was no problem. I could answer “No” very happily.
The New Zealand landing card’s question asks whether you have any criminal convictions, or have been deported from any country. That one I had to answer “Yes” to. (And for the benefit of those of you who said that being denied entry and being deported are not the same thing, I can assure from my conversation with the immigration people in New Zealand that for the purposes of that question they are.)
The important difference here is that Australia’s question applies only to events that require a decision of a court of law. The New Zealand question also includes events that can result from an arbitrary decision by a single border guard based solely on his hunch that you are lying about your purpose for visiting his country.
There are two points worth noting here. The first is that Australia has an electronic visa system that all potential visitors must use before they depart. This, in theory, screens out the people that New Zealand is trying to catch with the extra question. However, it doubtless cost a lot of money to establish. New Zealand is a much smaller country that may not be able to afford such a system.
The other point is that many of you are probably thinking, “well why should you worry, you are obviously not a threat to any country.” If you are white, middle-class and otherwise unremarkable you probably have an expectation of being treated fairly by those in authority. However, if you are, say, black, Muslim, a transsexual, or representative of any other group that is unpopular in Western society, you will have an expectation of being arbitrarily discriminated against by those in authority. That’s just the way the world is.
From my point of view I am perfectly happy to keep coming back to Australia. Once I have the necessary e-visa I can book my ticket with confidence that I will be let in. New Zealand is another matter. From now on every time I visit I will be subject to the same lottery with immigration officials. I can’t be sure until I get there whether I will be let in. That makes me very reluctant to try to go there, and I’m very sad about that.