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May 8, 2017 | by  | in Politics |
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Political Round Up

Labour Immigration Policy

It should be pretty clear by this point that immigration is going to be a major issue in the upcoming election.

In an ideal world this would mean a healthy debate over what New Zealand can reasonably support and who is most in need. Instead, both major parties appear to be slipping closer together in their condemnation of the “immigration problem”.

While National’s recently released working visa changes may have been narrow sighted, they are at least committed to a firm plan. Labour, meanwhile, has gone to great lengths to avoid giving any specifics.

After months of avoiding the issue, Labour leader Andrew Little was finally forced to confirm that he would make substantial cuts to immigration if elected. Though exactly how and where those cuts would be made still remains unclear.

Little said he would like to “target” the roughly 70,000 per annum net migration figure, but he denied wanting to cut immigration by as much as 50,000. Instead, he suggested that the numbers should be cut by a figure in the tens of thousands.

To Labour’s credit, the party appears to remain committed to meeting Pacific quotas, raising the refugee quota, and focusing on family unification. The problem is, though, that Little continues to lay many of New Zealand’s most high-profile problems squarely on the shoulders of new migrants.

In a pivot to Labour’s much touted Auckland-focused campaign, Little said that Auckland was bearing the brunt of immigration pressure. He listed overcrowded schools, poor health care, the housing shortage, and traffic congestion as being a result of high immigration.

In response, National’s Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse agreed that record immigration had put pressure on Auckland, but disagreed that direct immigration caps would help. Instead, National has opted to initially target the working visas scheme, with more changes likely.

None of this is to say that a debate on immigration is inherently wrong; we’ll find out how the public feel about that in September. The point is that it’s unfair and irresponsible to label immigration as the root of all evil when you don’t even have a firm policy to address it.

In hedging all its bets, Labour seems to be hoping it can appease both sides of the immigration debate. Instead, it’s running the risk of appealing to no one.

 

Winston Peters’ Immigration Comments

Since we’re already talking about immigration, let’s spend a little time talking about New Zealand First’s Winston Peters.

For the past few years, Peters’ remaining political capital seems to centre around blaming immigration for a raft of social and economic ills. But this past week, his comments reminded everyone exactly how low he can stoop when election year rolls around.

Peters lashed out at two senior journalists, Lincoln Tan and Harkanwal Singh, after they published an article showing that record work visa admissions were not primarily sourced from Asia. Peters called the report “propaganda,” claiming that their reporting was based on a flawed analysis of immigration data.

However, Peters also referred to the two reporters as “Asian immigrants,” implicitly questioning their motives and supposed bias. Singh and Tan responded with yet more data to back up their initial reporting, including numbers on student visas that Peters claimed were ignored.

Peters has since doubled down on the attacks, saying that the “immigrant reporters” were seeking “to justify their existence” with the report. He also denied his initial comments were racist.

New Zealand First’s immigration policy includes strong limits on the number of incoming migrants, especially those arriving on student visas. Mr Peters has said he wants immigration restricted to 10,000 per annum across all visa categories.

The comments have also forced carefully worded responses from Peters’ potential coalition partners.

Prime Minister Bill English would not be drawn on whether or not the comments were racist. He said that Mr Peters was looking to provoke a response for media attention. Meanwhile, Labour leader Andrew Little said that while a discussion about immigration was important, ethnicity and country of origin should be left out.

With the general election fast approaching, Peter’s comments take on an even greater political significance.

Based on current polling it looks likely that New Zealand First will play a major role in deciding who gets to form the next government. This means that while Little and English may safely condemn Peters now, things may look a little different on the other side of September 23.

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