Election 2020

‘We’ve been a handbrake’

NZ First launched into the first major event of its Northland 'do-or-die' campaign touting its record as a handbrake on Government

Shane Jones was the headline act at NZ First's "Force for the North" event, but it was list MP Fletcher Tabuteau who attracted early chants of approval for his recitation of the party's legacy this term.

"New Zealand First has been an accelerator for those good ideas and, I tell you what, we've been a handbrake for the bad ones."

That 'handbrake' legacy is extensive. It includes not just policies like commercial rent relief and light rail for Auckland, but the immigration system too - where residency approvals have ground to a halt on the back of coalition politics.

At the other end of the North Island, one person on the wrong side of that handbrake was in tears.

"It took me a year. More than a year. Maybe 380 days to be here. Now when I'm here they would not extend my visa anymore. What should I do now?"

Shivani, who didn't want her surname published, ended up unexpectedly separated from her new husband as INZ clamped down on arranged marriages. This was reportedly in an attempt to meet a heavily reduced residency target as the country tried to balance the large number of temporary migrants it had already let in with the lower number of residency places Cabinet had approved.

"It took me a year. More than a year. Maybe 380 days to be here. Now when I'm here they would not extend my visa anymore. What should I do now?"

Migrants like Shivani and their supporters were protesting in Auckland and Wellington on Sunday afternoon as Tabuteau and later Jones took the stage. The timing appears to have been a coincidence. 

While they didn't hesitate to mention the impact NZ First had on their lives, thoughts of Shivani's fate were likely far from Jones' mind as he took the podium at Forum North. 

"Don't listen to other parties who describe us as a handbrake. Listen to our leader who says we are fountains of commonsense," Jones said.

On current polling he must win the Northland electorate in order for NZ First to have a chance of being a handbrake again. The strategy for getting there was not just "Kiwis first", but one of more for the North.

Migrants and their supporters protested in Auckland and Wellington as Jones gave his speech in Northland. Photo: Dileepa Fonseka

NZ First's record is likely to be a key plank of that appeal. Jones said the party was responsible for $1.5b in capital funding for Northland during its term in Government (the region has a total GDP of over $7.5b).

"The economic cold shoulder in Northland. Our party. Your party. Is not going to take it any more."

The event was supposed to have been NZ First's campaign launch, but was transformed into a Jones-helmed event after the party's leader took medical leave.

Peters had keyhole surgery on Thursday for an undisclosed ailment associated with symptoms of food poisoning and dehydration.

While an appeal to Northland's self-interest was front and centre in Jones' speech, his words also revealed immigration would remain a major campaign issue despite the borders likely being closed for some time to come.

"Employers need to adapt and meet the market of Kiwi employees rather than picking up the 0800 number calling immigration and wanting an unfettered level of access to a new group of employees." 

And yet - as Newsroom reported earlier - the Government has picked up the phone itself and listed 60 infrastructure projects on a INZ list that will allow migrants to be brought in to build them at lower salaries if employers can prove they are essential to the completion of those projects.

Some of those include key Northland infrastructure projects like SH1 Whangarei to Port Marsden and the North Auckland rail line. 

Migrants like Shivani were making that point underneath the statue of Richard "King Dick" Seddon - who developed the poll tax to prevent Chinese immigration - just outside Parliament in Wellington.

"If they don't want immigrants here, why don't they say 'we don't want any visas'?

"The whole economy is based on immigrants....if New Zealanders had so much skill there wouldn't be so many immigrants here."

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