New Zealand: All parties will have to tackle migrant policy
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Mon Oct 27 21:08:58 UTC 2008
All parties will have to tackle migrant policy
By DAN EATON - The Press | Tuesday, 28 October 2008
The immigration policies of our leaders reveal stark differences in
their vision for New Zealand and what it means to be a Kiwi. There are
few items in a politician's box of tricks that can be used more
effectively to send coded messages to voters than immigration. Nobody
does it with greater skill and regularity than embattled NZ First
leader Winston Peters. The only surprise this election was that the
attack was so long in coming.
Immigrant numbers, Peters told a Grey Power crowd in Nelson on October
16, should be slashed to protect Kiwi jobs as the economy declines.
"When times are tough internationally, immigrants are attracted to New
Zealand like moths to a neon light," he said.
Peters has targeted immigrants before each of the past four elections.
Commentators say his stand plays to racist segments of the community,
despite the avoidance of overtly racist terminology.
The tactic is known as dog-whistling or dog-whistle politics, a term
coined in Australia in the 1990s to describe the Howard
administration's policy of cracking down on illegal immigration. When
you blow a dog whistle humans can't hear it, but the dogs sure can,
goes the definition.
Unlike past election years, Peters has made no specific mention of
Asia in his attacks on immigrants. But the message is clear, given
public comments by his deputy, Peter Brown, who has said he is
concerned New Zealand society will become more divided if the number
of Asians allowed in continues to grow.
It is a time-honoured technique and Peters is not alone in employing it.
Britain's new Immigration Minister, Phil Woolas, said this month that
his government would get tougher on immigration as the financial
crisis pushed up unemployment.
Within 24 hours Woolas was backpedalling amid a storm of protest.
Immigration is generally regarded by experts as a positive as
countries compete for the skills and experience needed to drive
Peters has raised an issue all parties are grappling with and the next
government will not be able to dodge.
New Zealand is in recession and the challenge is to strike the right balance.
The country's labour force needs will be different from what it was in
the boom years, when there was near full employment and a shortage of
skilled and unskilled labour. Policies will need to adapt to a slowing
economy where jobs will be scarcer. While all eight parties in
Parliament support some migration, and agree it is important for the
economy, their policies reveal different visions of New Zealand and
what it means to be a New Zealander.
If Labour is in a position to form a government after the November 8
election, it will face conflicting demands from its potential
The Greens have a distinctly humanitarian focus and want to
significantly boost the refugee intake. That contrasts sharply with
New Zealand First's desire for radical cuts to protect jobs and its
concerns over the ethnic make-up of the population.
In its government-building talks, National will have an easier ride
with ACT and United Future.
The Maori Party, potentially the kingmaker, could provide headaches
for anyone seeking to cut a deal.
Founder and co-leader Tariana Turia's desire to restrict immigration
from traditional Western sources, including Australia, Canada and
Britain, is unlikely to sit easily with any other party, or indeed
most New Zealanders.
LABOUR has yet to unveil a revised policy, but the Government says
current settings are broadly OK.It plans to keep numbers around the
current level of 50,000 and take a Kiwis-first approach to jobs. Its
Immigration Advisers Act will require agents to be licensed. The
Immigration Bill, awaiting its final stages, revamps a system in place
since the 1980s. It was a condition of NZ First's support deal after
the last election and has the broad support of most parties in
NATIONAL is banking on lower taxes and slashing red tape, encouraging
Kiwis to come home and reversing the tide of those heading abroad. It
will create new visa categories to lure qualified job-seekers, make it
easier for them to stay if they find a job and lower the threshold for
wealthy migrants keen to invest here.It has also pledged to shake up
the Department of Labour's Immigration Service.
NZ FIRST plans to slash the number of new migrants to about 10,000 to
protect local jobs, cut the number of family members able to join
refugees, make all new arrivals take courses in New Zealand values and
introduce a five-year good-behaviour probation period.
GREENS the party has a "humanitarian" approach, including a 33%
increase in the refugee quota to 1000 per year. It also requires new
arrivals to take a course on New Zealand and Kiwi values.It wants to
crack down on investor migrants rorting the system.
MAORI PARTY has yet to unveil a formal policy, but co-leader Tariana
Turia wants limits on immigration from Western countries and wants
compulsory training in New Zealand history and Treaty of Waitangi
UNITED FUTURE wants to maintain current net migration at about 10,000
or increase it slightly, and plans greater support for resettlement
and finding jobs. It wants a one-stop business development agency to
help migrants in setting up their own businesses and a "retirement
visa" category to allow parents of permanent residents and citizens to
ACT wants to boost net inflow to 30,000 to 40,000 a year, cut tax
rates to make New Zealand more attractive, reduce occupational
licensing as a barrier to the use of immigrants' skills, and have a
five-year probation period during which immigrants who offend can be
sent home if convicted of an imprisonable offence.
PROGRESSIVES aims to boost resettlement programmes to assist in areas
such as English language and finding employment. It wants priority
given to immigrants who contribute to continuing economic development,
targeted to meet pressing needs outside New Zealand's largest cities
such as doctors, nurses and technical trades.
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