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'Crisis point': How one woman's life fell apart and why she's now being deported

Natalie Akoorie,
Publish Date
Sun, 3 Mar 2024, 1:12PM
Photo/NZ Herald
Photo/NZ Herald

'Crisis point': How one woman's life fell apart and why she's now being deported

Natalie Akoorie,
Publish Date
Sun, 3 Mar 2024, 1:12PM

The crisis point in Amanda’s* life came when her ailing mother suffered another stroke and she was asked whether, next time, her mum should be resuscitated.

It dawned on the Australian woman that when the dementia took hold and her mother finally succumbed, she would be alone; without a parent, sibling, partner or children.

Her world crumbled and she was briefly placed in psychiatric care.

Fast forward three years and Amanda found herself in the grip of a gambling addiction that led to her stealing $228,000 from her employer - a former district health board in New Zealand.

Now she is to be deported after the Immigration and Protection Tribunal of New Zealand declined an appeal, made on humanitarian grounds.

Amanda was a parking administrator for the DHB, now Te Whatu Ora, when she stole the public money to feed her gambling addiction.

The 48-year-old was convicted of theft by a person in a special relationship and sentenced in January 2022 to 10 months’ home detention.

She was in charge of monitoring the float and recovering coins from parking machines around the campus when the offending began.

Between August 2017 and September 2018, she stole $228,448 in coins from the DHB, depositing $109,453 into the account of a good friend which the pair spent together on gambling and weekends away.

Both were convicted; Amanda received 10 months’ home detention and the friend 12 months’ community detention for receiving stolen goods.

Amanda was served with a deportation notice in January last year but appealed to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal on humanitarian grounds.

She claimed exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian nature because she was living with depression and anxiety and her support network was entirely in New Zealand and could not adequately be replicated in Australia.

The Immigration and Protection Tribunal said Amanda's nexus was to Australia having lived the bulk of her life there. Photo / 123RF
The Immigration and Protection Tribunal said Amanda's nexus was to Australia having lived the bulk of her life there. Photo / 123RF

At a hearing in October last year, Amanda gave evidence that her poor mental health developed after a series of tragic and overwhelming events in her life.

Born in Melbourne to parents who were in their 40s, Amanda’s father died when she was young and she was an only child with much older cousins, of whom few are still alive.

She was not close to extended family on her mother’s side.

In her early 30s she became engaged to a man serving in the Australian Armed Forces.

“Her partner was deployed overseas and was killed in a tragic accident in late 2006,” the partly anonymised decision said.

“The appellant was pregnant at the time of her partner’s death. She miscarried approximately six weeks later.”

Amanda moved to New Zealand in July 2007 to be close to her good friend but returned to Melbourne in 2009 to care for her mother who had developed dementia.

She “bore the brunt of her mother’s care alone” with no family to help and no meaningful financial support from the government, the decision noted.

Amanda reached “crisis point” in 2014 after her mother suffered another stroke and she realised she would be left alone, with no immediate family.

“The appellant became overwhelmed by the cumulative impact of the responsibility of caring for her mother, her inability to properly deal with the grief of her previous bereavements and her sense of isolation.”

Amanda was admitted to a psychiatric ward for two weeks and was grateful for the intervention.

Afterwards, she and mental health support workers put in place a plan that she still used to keep well including proper sleep, exercise and reaching out to friends.

Her mother died in 2017 and in July that year Amanda returned to New Zealand and found work at the DHB.

“Before long, the appellant began to steal coins. She also began to gamble and developed the habit of going to the casino, sometimes alone and sometimes with her close friend.

“She does not know why she felt the compulsion to steal or to gamble but believes that she was just trying to feel something and that the gambling became addictive.”

Toward the end of 2018 Amanda decided to stop stealing and resigned from the DHB but after she left discrepancies were found and police knocked on her door in late 2020.

In late 2021 Amanda informed her new employer of the theft and she lost that job because the employer was government-funded.

She had not gambled since her arrest and although none of the stolen money was recovered Amanda intended to repay it once she found employment again.

Her lawyer said forcing Amanda back to Australia away from her close friends, counsellor and dog, where she would need to re-establish herself and after the judge identified her as vulnerable, would be unduly harsh.

But the tribunal said she had lived in Australia for almost 40 years and she could remain in contact with her friends through telephone and social media.

The tribunal said another close friend of Amanda’s, who was also Australian but lived in the same New Zealand city as her, might not be available to her indefinitely were she to stay in New Zealand, while her counsellor had already moved jobs.

It noted that she began offending very soon after returning to New Zealand in 2017 which undermined her connection to the local community, particularly while she completed home detention.

The tribunal said there was no evidence Amanda would not be able to access state assistance on her return to Australia, which she relied on in New Zealand, and that in the past she had accessed good healthcare and support in Australia and there was no reason to believe she could not again if she required it.

“Leaving New Zealand will be confronting and frightening for the appellant.

“She will have to grapple with uncomfortable realities, including an uncertain future, leaving behind friends and possibly leaving behind a beloved dog who has probably been an important part of her recovery.

“However, those difficulties do not go beyond the difficulty, hardship, disappointment, and emotional upset inherent in deportation resulting from criminal offending.”

The tribunal ordered Amanda be allowed a four-month working visa from December to get her affairs in order before being deported.

Amanda said through her lawyer she did not want to comment on the outcome.

*Names changed or omitted to protect identities.

Natalie Akoorie is a senior reporter based in Waikato covering crime and justice nationally. Natalie first joined the Herald in 2011 and has been a journalist in New Zealand and overseas for 28 years, more recently covering health, social issues, local government, and the regions.

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