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Labour’s nomination of Willie Jackson
Just when the opposition was looking its most coherent in recent memory, Andrew Little dropped a bombshell at Waitangi. Veteran broadcaster and controversial radio host Willie Jackson would be nominated to join the Labour Party at a high list placing.
The announcement was undoubtedly a calculated risk, but Mr Little may have underestimated just how divisive it would prove to be.
Opposition began with Christchurch East MP and Labour Party Spokesperson for Family and Sexual Violence, Poto Williams. Ms Williams wrote a lengthy Facebook post publicly criticising Mr Jackson for his previous comments on sexual violence when interviewing a young victim in the Roast Busters case.
Other Labour Party members circulated a petition calling on their leading council to reject the application. The petition supported Ms Williams’ criticism, and also noted Mr Jackson’s advocacy for charter schools, Labour’s commitment to a gender-balanced caucus, and his previous comments on Finance Spokesperson Grant Robertson’s sexuality.
The announcement also raised the ire of former Labour MPs Maryan Street, Carol Beaumont, Marian Hobbs, and Dover Samuels. Mr Samuels even went as far as committing to give up his lifetime party membership if Mr Jackson were selected.
However, Mr Jackson’s place in Labour is still far from assured. Like all prospective candidates he must go through normal party selection processes, set to begin in April.
If his selection is approved, the ramifications for this year’s election could be huge.
Although Māori Party’s Te Ururoa Flavell is all but assured his Waiariki seat, Jackson’s membership in Labour could help to boost Labour’s chances in other Māori seats, especially by supporting Kelvin Davis in Te Tai Tokerau.
Given that Winston Peters has already suggested his unwillingness to be a part of a government with the Māori Party, this could have a serious impact on possible coalition partners to form a viable government.
Last year’s shock resignation by John Key gave Labour a huge opening, which they have since capitalised on in a public agreement with the Green Party and their campaign in the Mt Albert by-election.
However, National’s recent leadership contest was a master class in party unity that Mr Jackson’s nomination has shown the Labour Party to be woefully incapable of. Despite a meeting between Mr Jackson and Ms Williams on February 8, the cracks have already begun to show.
Political responses to student deportations
The fate of a group of Indian students currently facing deportation has exposed the inner workings of New Zealand’s export education industry. It has also firmly established immigration as one of the most contentious political issues of this year’s election.
International students are big business for New Zealand. The industry has quickly swelled to become our fifth biggest export category, now worth almost $3 billion. That growth looks set to continue, with estimates of up to $5 billion by 2025.
Many of the students who come to NZ are ‘recruited’ by overseas agents who work on commission from schools and training institutions based here. These agents, particularly those employed by private tertiary educators, are given little training and are notoriously hard to track down when problems occur.
The students currently facing deportation have said that they were completely unaware of the changes made to their applications by their immigration agents. They have also noted that Immigration New Zealand had a full 27 days to vet their documents before it granted them visas.
The Government’s response has been uncharacteristically hard-nosed, marking a stark transition from their Key-era pragmatism and social populism. Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse repeatedly placed the blame on the students themselves while brushing off questions about the agents who submitted their documents or the schools that paid for them.
National’s stubborn adherence to the letter of the law should have been an easy win for Labour. All that was required was a little compassion and a genuine commitment to make some changes. Instead, Labour’s initial outrage felt somewhat blunted by their lack of substantive policy.
Although Andrew Little met with several of the students and called on the Minister to overturn the deportation orders, he would not to commit to industry reform. This, despite claiming that the government, education providers, and immigration agents all needed to take responsibility.
While both the Greens and New Zealand First offered a more pointed response, noting the double standard in the visa support given to American billionaire Peter Thiel, the entire episode has exposed a surprising lack of political commitment to fix an obviously flawed system.
Given the pace of growth in the industry and the risk to incoming students, addressing these problems is something that our major political parties should at least be considering.