Comment

Todd McClay: UN migration deal ‘unworkable global standard’

Writing in response to Dr Nina Hall's Newsroom article expressing concern about National's opposition to a UN migration agreement, the party's foreign affairs spokesman Todd McClay argues its stance is not about backing nationalists, but defending New Zealand's sovereignty.

Last week, Dr Nina Hall noted with concern National’s position on the United Nations Global Compact on Migration.

The compact is the first agreement of its kind that is aimed at creating a global framework for migration policy by setting forward 23 principles and a range of policies to uphold those principles. National is opposed to this agreement.

There are several issues we have with the compact such as the failure to distinguish between legal and illegal migration and commitments to endorse policies that we believe amount to infringements of the rights of a free press.

But the major issue we have is that we do not believe that migration policy should be governed through a UN framework. Migration is solely a matter for sovereign states, who will often be required to work cooperatively to deal with a dynamic set of circumstances facing them. This does not lend itself well to a first-of-its-kind global framework that is being proposed.

Importantly, we believe that when countries sign up to such agreements we are obliged to put in place the principles and policies we commit to. If we fail to follow through, we will not only face pressure to adjust our policies but it very well may be that our courts will hold us to the standard we committed to.

This is not a call for change of our already excellent immigration system - this is a call to defend it from change that we believe would not be for the better.

Turning to Dr Hall’s case, I firmly reject the charge that has laid before us that National is now endorsing an anti-migration position. National, unlike many political parties in our Parliament, has consistently fought to recognise the value migration brings to New Zealand.

We are not proposing radical changes to our immigration policies, nor are we now changing our stringent opposition to political stunts like calling for tens of thousands of migrants to be barred from our country, or for policy to be generated off the sound of people’s names.

We oppose this UN framework and believe that nations must act according to their circumstances without appeals to an unworkable global standard. This is not a call for change of our already excellent immigration system - this is a call to defend it from change that we believe would not be for the better.

Dr Hall then argues that our opposition is misleading as New Zealand did not oppose the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants in 2016. With all due respect, it is not National who is being misleading on this point.

National foreign affairs spokesman Todd McClay says the last government did not negotiate the UN migration compact it currently opposes.

The declaration in question committed nations towards broad principles involving refugees and migrants. It also committed nations towards negotiations on frameworks. It did not commit us to agreeing to the final document.

Relevantly, it was also not a National government that negotiated the compact. Publicly available information from the UN and New Zealand government briefings outline that the first round of negotiations were held in February 2018 (notable for the lack of a National government).

But even so, will this agreement affect our policy-making ability? Dr Hall states that the agreement states that it is non-binding and respects countries rights to set whatever policy they want.

But agreements such as these would not exist if they were not intended to have an effect. Countries who sign them are expected to uphold their commitments and courts have an obligation to assess the commitment countries make when deciding cases.

If New Zealand makes commitments, it is expected that we will be true to our word. We have seen courts take into account agreements stated to be non-binding before, and we can expect them to do it again. Given National opposes elements of this agreement, we believe we are justified in opposing signing it on this basis.

Far-right claim 'absurd'

Finally, through a lazy association with countries deemed to be unsatisfactory, Dr Hall accuses National of engaging in far-right politics. This is absurd. I have already outlined National’s clear endorsement of the value migration brings to our country and a keenness to continue supporting our excellent immigration system. We will further continue to call out the dog-whistle politics promoted by other political parties that have dominated our domestic immigration discussion in the past few years.

Moreover, countries identified such as Australia and the United States are long-term friends of New Zealand and countries that reflect a strong rights-based democratic tradition. Their substantive concerns have also cited similar issues such as the limitations of free expressions and the inadequacy of a global framework to manage migration.

New Zealand should be proud of our efforts to act as a global citizen when it comes to respecting the value of migration and establishing a world-class immigration system. However, setting a global set of objectives that do not adequately reflect New Zealand’s values should be resisted.

Todd McClay is National's spokesman for foreign affairs and trade.

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