New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has called for an unprecedented drop in immigration numbers, suggesting that the current 124,000 a year be dropped to between 7000 and 15,000.
Peters also wants potential immigrants to be thoroughly interviewed at the border, and their knowledge of NZ to be tested.
“There has to be an understanding of what this country’s values, laws and society is like. Sign up to a loyalty to New Zealand, to our flag, to our laws and to our beliefs. And our respect for other beliefs and above all respect for all people regardless of gender. “
Peters notes that high immigration levels are keeping New Zealanders out of jobs and ramping up housing and infrastructure problems.
“This is not working for Auckland or New Zealand. In fact it’s bringing enormous pressure to all infrastructure to Auckland including enormous demand in housing with a lack of supply. And you want to deal with some of these problems and you want Auckland to breathe and get a chance to develop. You can’t go on with these record levels of immigration.”
Labour Party leader Andrew Little agrees, to an extent, saying on Morning Report that a better balance needs to be struck that matches the economy’s real demand.
“There is a case to say we need to manage immigration when it comes to our workforce needs.”
Little, however, does not subscribe to Winston Peters’ Trumpist line of a brutal cut. He suggests that it’s a matter for adjustment, rather than simply slashing numbers.
“I’m focussed on what’s happening in the workforce … it’s a matter of common sense when the economy is slowing and we have rising levels of unemployment.”
Clearly, there is an issue here. The record levels of immigration are helping prop up the economy, but at a time when unemployment is still above 5%, a look at the settings couldn’t hurt. One economist even thinks that a cut in migration is one of the answers to the Auckland housing crisis.
It’s been said by some that immigrants will do jobs Kiwis won’t and to an extent that’s true. However, that’s possibly because Kiwis don’t want to be exploited on minimum wage. Kiwis are less likely to put their hands up for being ripped off on dairy farms, where the salaries sound reasonable until you factor in the enormous hours to be worked and the lack of time off away from the farm.
The misuse of the Essential Skills work visas is a continuing problem. In theory, workers are ‘sponsored’ in by an employer to work in a specific workplace and paid a reasonable salary. In reality, many are shifted around from work site to work site, work long, long hours and have tithes for accommodation and food taken from their wages and do not always do work that actually matches their skills.
In Christchurch, many migrant rebuild workers feature in the growing homelessness stats. They make do dossing or sleeping in their cars, because we don’t offer a well planned housing infrastructure.
I was made aware last week of one prominent company that fitted out a packing hall with work benches at a low height because they intended only hiring Asian workers, who they believed to be shorter on average than local workers. They pay these workers an hourly rate less than the adult minimum wage. But they also donate to the National Party, so that’s not a problem.
It’s probably time for an easing back on immigration numbers. Not because of prejudice, but because of practicality. Let’s get our unemployment rate down and train people already here for the jobs where there is a skill shortage. And lets get our provinces back working, first and foremost. The Government could take a lead there, by shifting call centres and data processing to places like Gisborne, Greymouth and Whanganui.
As a country, we need to be welcoming to guests, residents and future citizens. However, a non-emotional look at whether we’ve got the immigration flow right is the correct call. Andrew Little is spot on to say the numbers need to match need. Winston Peter’s approach is brutal, ignorant and self serving.
Which is why Andrew Little has pitched this right and Winston Peters has not.
Lets look at the numbers, but lets not forget that these are workers just like you and I, and lets not lose our humanity in the process.