It is election year, so Winston Peters has resumed his long-standing anti-immigration stance. This year his case is helped by the fact that the Government has made mistakes on immigration policy. But we need to remember that immigration can be positive, if managed well. We need to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater as they have in the US and UK where anti-migrant sentiment has scared off the talented people that can make our country a better place.
Immigration can be and often is positive for an economy – so long as it meets quite specific conditions. The effect is seldom large but it is positive if done right. That means there’s plenty of scope to do it wrong. In 2017 there can be little doubt that National is doing it wrong – and has been now for a couple of years. When it was first elected and the global financial crisis gripped the globe, National wound up foreign immigration. That provided a welcome buffer to the international downturn. But National did not turn the spigot off; indeed it opened it further and let the quality of economic migrants slip.
Here’s our take on foreign immigration. If they increase New Zealanders’ incomes fine, if not then no thanks we don’t need that type of immigrant (refugees excepted of course, that is a totally different topic not covered here). That’s the framework for thinking about the migration issue. Of course they must pass the various tests as per the points system – re English language andrespect for our constitution, etc. But their economic contribution is what’s vital – if people can make us all better off by filling true skill shortages or starting businesses then we should welcome them with open arms.
Firstly, it is beholden on us to determine if the evidence supports this – are wages rising in those areas where shortages are claimed and despite that, are skill shortages persisting? Or is it just that employers can’t get the numbers at the prevailing wage? We want wages to rise – this is what “trickle down” is, it’s how wage earners participate in an upturn, how all boats rise. And importantly we want the most profitable companies to be expanding & leading that trend. We don’t want to be facilitating an economic expansion based on low or falling wage rates. There is some prima facie evidence that this is happening – take a look at dairying, cafes, retail.
So for employers screaming they need more workers, we would need to see evidence of higher wages being paid before that argument would be credible. We certainly shouldn’t see permanent migration happening in industries that are at or close to the minimum wage.
Over the past few years it has been common for migrants to work for less than a living wage as a path to residency. In particular we know the foreign education sector has been corrupted from beginning to end and part of that is the wage rates at which those students are working their 20 hours per week at. Increasingly there are instances of migrants even working for less than minimum wage – a situation that benefits no one. Given the way Working for Families and the benefit system works it would be crazy for many Kiwis to take these jobs.
The evidence that immigration has become a tsunami since 2014 is here.
In essence, it leapt in 2014 as fewer New Zealanders left and more foreigners arrived – and over the subsequent 3 years it’s remained at these rates of around 1.5% of total population per annum. Now numbers themselves are not the full story. While more migrants put pressure on infrastructure, I’m sure we would welcome 2% population growth if they were skilled people that could establish businesses and build their own houses. Sadly we know that this hasn’t been the case, as discussed above.
It’s important to differentiate this evidence-based issue with immigration, from the xenophobic-based approach to immigration that Winston Peters and NZ First have had forever. Peters has always been against immigration – for as long as he’s been around – and even when immigration was well under a third of what it is now. In the past he’s used mainly ethnic assimilation arguments to mount his argument & clearly these appeal to the xenophobes and racists amongst us. For example:
A pamphlet issued by New Zealand First in 2003, with a message from Winston Peters opining that New Zealanders are being squeezed out of their country by the arrival of hundreds of Asian ("Third World") immigrants. The pamphlet blames the Labour Party immigration policy for this. It notes the rise in crime levels and "Third World" diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. At the time net migration was contributing 1% per annum to population growth.
Next a speech by Peters in 2005 when net immigration was averaging around 1300 per month (15k per annum) or under 0.5% of the population – about a third of what it’s been lately.
“We are being colonised without New Zealanders having some say in the numbers of people coming in and where they are coming from. This is a deliberate policy of ethnic engineering and re-population.”
2005 speech on immigration policy, entitled Securing Our Borders and Protecting Our Identity.
In the same 2005 speech, Peters put his xenophobia to the fore again with,
So let there be no mistake Winston Peters is acutely racist in his resistance to immigration; he profiles migrants by whether they look different to “us” or not. That of course is the same approach Enoch Powell took in the UK during the 1960’s with his infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech that incited Britons to racial hatred. Most recently Peters has again sought political capital by his attack on journalists of the New Zealand Herald because of their ethnicity – which he blamed for their bias in reporting. He went further on Q&A just this week to argue the problem with immigration is ethnicity and when asked why, he made the leap to alleging that ethnicity:
“matters a lot, it matters as to what they believe, it matters as to whether they’ll support our laws, respect our human rights, respect our flag, respect our conditions, and above all have some understanding of the indigenous culture that we’ve got…”
Winston Peters is alleging that it’s ethnicity that determines whether people will have the same view as him on these issues – it’s not a matter of choice or preference of the individual. That is one of the strongest expressions of racism possible - It is often referred to as profiling - concluding what someone's views are simply by their ethnicitiy. It is aweful.
The point with all this is that Peters and his party NZ First are recidivists when it comes to the ethnic nature of immigration. He simply does not like immigrants that are not from countries he doesn’t approve of.
The Peters approach to immigration then is rooted primarily in his racial preferences. While New Zealand has let immigration of late get out of hand for the reasons cited earlier, Winston Peters attempts to piggy back on these arguments but fails to disguise the fact that at source he is extremely anti-ethnic diversity. His ideal is a New Zealand of Maori and British Commonwealth settlers, there is no place in New Zealand apparently for others – because as a result of their ethnicity they do not share his values. So to Chinese and Indians for example Winston Peters is openly hostile.
That is unadulterated racism, but of course in 2017 he’s trying to disguise his prejudice as the same call for curbs on immigration that many of us are making. One should not be fooled by the deep racism that drives Winston Peters. For the sake of one’s own humanity it is important that voters are not swayed by the Peters rationale for curbing migration. It is nothing to do with race or ethnicity; it is simply a matter of whether the people we’re getting are enhancing our well-being. We have been multicultural long before Winston Peters dragged his racism centre stage.
Irrespective of the Winston Peters prejudice which never changes, immigration policy absolutely needs an overhaul as the National government has facilitated a substantial drop in the quality of economic migrants and allowed the numbers to run on well past when the sector was providing a buffer to the global downturn. The resultant suppression of local wages is an unacceptable price to pay.