On Backbenches last night Green Party candidate Golriz Ghahraman refused to be drawn on any details of the Green Party immigration policy. Their policy appears to be to talk about it in terms of values only, but who and how many people do they want coming into the country? It is the inability of the Green Party to face up to these basic tough questions that leaves one feeling a bit uneasy about them being in government.
Let’s start with the obvious – in an increasingly dangerous world the demand to live in New Zealand is far greater than we can handle. That is a basic reality, that demand to live here outstrips supply. It seems the naïve position of the Green Party is to open the gates and let everyone in. Is that their intention?
If not, then they need some sort of selection process. If that doesn’t include numbers, it does need to include some criteria. We can’t select immigrants on the basis of Golriz’ or James Shaw’s values, unless they are going to personally stand at the border and make the call. The Greens need to come clean on what that selection criteria would be. If we aren’t going to view people as ‘economic units’ as they claim – that is fine, but we still need selection criteria.
Running a country is full of some tough trade offs. Here is one – the impact of immigration on wages. Most economists agree that at the moment immigration is a leading factor in the stagnant wages faced by low income Kiwis. The Green Party is committed to lifting the minimum wage to the living wage. The trouble with this magic wand approach is that it is predicted to put around 30,000 people out of a job. That is a massive toll on already vulnerable people. A much easier way to achieve the same goal would be to protect low-income earners from wage competition by foreigners. This would mean that employers would have to compete for workers by putting their wages up. If we are aiming for a living wage as the Green Party claims, why do we continue to import any workers for jobs that pay less than the living wage? Or even for that matter under the average wage?
We need to have a mature debate about immigration and population in New Zealand. And absolutely that needs to be done without politicians resorting to xenophobia or racism. But the debate still needs to happen, and that won’t happen by putting our heads in the sand. Values only take us so far.