Comment

One redeeming feature in Jones’ migrant-bashing

Lurking within Shane Jones' rant about migrants entering via arranged marriages was one good idea - New Zealand should have an agreed and comprehensive policy on population growth, says Paul Chalmers

For people of my age (mid 60s), Shane Jones calling on Indians to return home if they don’t like it here has unpleasant echoes of British MP Enoch Powell’s attempts to repatriate the swarthy races.  

Another time, but not so different a message.

It has overshadowed his reasonable suggestion that New Zealand needs a comprehensive population policy.

As a businessperson working in the immigration sector, I believe a population policy with a clear strategy would do everyone a favour. We don’t have one and suffer from constantly changing policy settings depending on the vagaries and vacillations of our politicians/policymakers.

Both major parties have missed the chance to open a conversation with the wider populace on the bigger issue of population changes and particularly on the issue of immigration.

The recent controversy over partnership visas shows how quickly debate on these issues can turn toxic.

New Zealand has a chance to involve everyone in this discussion and thus avoid the potential discord that the immigration debate has ignited in other countries.

A key resource for the Minister when researching this topic should be the excellent work “Better Lives: Migration, Wellbeing and New Zealand” by Julie Fry and Peter Wilson; a comprehensive review of the topic with a ready-made framework for implementing an immigration strategy.

NZ needs a significant number of migrants to settle to replace our ageing population. In the twenty or so years I have been working in the sector, we have never been able to get even a rough estimate of what that number is.

The work outlines an eight stage process of analysing and testing the wellbeing effects of migration on specific policy initiatives in say, the housing or health provision sector, and what these impacts will be. Rather than relying on the particular prejudices of politicians desperate for votes, the approach uses all the available data and a regime of testing to determine whether the initiative will have positive or negative impact.

The authors acknowledge that the process may seem daunting (most immigration policy is) but with a relatively small number of policy changes potentially impacting on wellbeing, the process should not be that difficult.

Minister Jones would also discover some interesting facts in his pursuit of a population policy.

For example, New Zealand needs a significant number of migrants to settle to replace our ageing population. In the twenty or so years I have been working in the sector, we have never been able to get even a rough estimate of what that number is. A population policy could provide a rough guide, giving those affected some idea of targets or caps in order to smooth the impact of current policy volatility on business planning.  

Canada has set clear targets across a range of migrant categories that give all working across the economy a heads up.

Minister Jones also will also discover that, according to MBIE, international students make up only one in five of new residents. Most have already gone home. Further research would tell him that the student pathway is the one of the best methods of ensuring potential employees have a good grounding in New Zealand workplace requirements and that, rather than treating international student as ‘backdoor’ migrants, we should welcome them with significant opportunities for post study work rights and encourage them to stay.

A comprehensive population plan would have widespread ramifications and needs to be discussed across our society; communities need a chance to provide constructive feedback about the role migration and other programmes could play in determining the shape of the future New Zealand.

New Zealand has a unique chance to avoid the cycle of damaging populist politics sweeping the world. Jones may have provided us the opportunity.

France offers an interesting lesson.

Emmanuel Macron embarked on a country wide public consultation, the Great National Debate, in 2019, because his people were incensed by injustice and their remoteness from power. It generated immense support from the populace, with widespread participation including 1.5 million people attending town hall meetings. The results have yet to be seen although Macron’s strategy seems to have mollified the ‘yellow vest’ movement. He risks an enormous backlash in the 2022 election should significant reforms not be forthcoming.

The lessons for New Zealand are clear. Firstly, this conversation has to take place quickly or the wild assertions about Indians bringing their villages to New Zealand will fan a toxic atmosphere where no shared discussion will be possible.

Secondly, we need to build widespread consensus via professionally organised forums across the country and be prepared to follow through with fast acting policies that also allow for citizens and businesses to adapt to and adopt the new regime.

New Zealand has a unique chance to avoid the cycle of damaging populist politics sweeping the world.  

Jones may have provided us the opportunity.

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