Labour has to defend its immigration policies
By Richard Harman (author)
Labour has moved to head off the potential embarrassment of having one of its key policies compared to those of Donald Trump.
The problem began with a tweet, promoting a story in the Wall Street Journal on Ardern which said: "Meet New Zealand's Justin Trudeau—except she's more like Trump on immigration.”
Ardern was quick to respond and told journalists yesterday she found the tweet offensive.
The Wall Street Journal report itself, which ran front page in the Asian edition, was headlined: “Immigration Politics Turns Upside Down in New Zealand Election Campaign.
“Center-left party’s plan to cut immigration helps narrow the gap with conservative government.”
The story claims that “Ms. Ardern’s rapid ascent owes much to tapping into growing unease about affordability, particularly among young voters, and feeding off a global backlash over immigration.”
POLITIK understands that one of her staff has complained directly to the Wall Street Journal about both the tweet and the story.
But though Trump’s motivations for wanting to control immigration into the United States and Ardern’s for wanting to slash immigration into New Zealand are very different and any comparison is far fetched, the end result is that Labour, like Trump, wants to cut immigration.
And there has been a backlash, particularly within the Indian community, traditionally Labour supporters, over the immigration policy.
Many in the Indian community believe it is racist.
However, Labour’s motivations are complex.
It argues that migrants put downward pressure on wages and intensify demand for housing and infrastructure.
But at least one of its MPs also argues that if we don't cut back, we risk a racist backlash such as been seen in the United States.
Deputy Leader Kelvin Davis last night reaffirmed Labour’s policy on the Spinoff debate.
"We've said that we are going to reduce it by 20 to 30,000," he said.
“But we want more skilled immigrants.
“That’s the big thing.”
On Tuesday night, Labour MP David Parker told a candidates meeting in Auckland that Labour favoured admitting more refugees.
"I want us to be more generous with this huge problem that we've got around the world with more displaced people in the world than we’ve had since World War Two," he said.
“So we should increase our refugee quota.
Humanitarian migration makes up only about three per cent of immigration flows, so it is not large.
“The vast majority is economic migration.’
Parker said New Zealand’s migration rate was the second highest in the world at the moment.
“We say it is running too hot.
“We say we have got to take a breather and let infrastructure both public and private catch up.
“We also say some of the migration has been quite low value,”
He cited supermarket shelf stackers as one example of occupations being filled by migrants coming in.
“Beware what happens if you get these things wrong as shown in Brexit and by Trump.
“Yes, it’s great that we are a multicultural, cohesive and tolerant society but push these things too hard and they can go the other way.
“And if I was someone at the bottom of the heap and I was having people coming in at just above my place on the ladder, and I couldn’t go up the ladder because someone else was in the middle I would be a bit resentful.
“So I think we have to be careful when we have so many people who aren't in training, education or employment that we don’t frustrate their efforts to get ahead.”
Labour candidate (and likely MP) Priyanca Radhakrishnan defended the party's policy at an Indian community debate over the weekend.
She said a net increase of 70,000 migrants compared with 30,000 nine years was a huge increase of people.
“It doesn’t matter how they come here or for what purpose or where these people come from but if we are talking about pressures on housing or transport that we haven’t funded then we have a problem,” she said.
But Labour’s policy is a divisive one within the Indian community and one of its longstanding supporters and community leader, Sunny Kaushal, has moved across to National because of it.
In its coverage of the debate, the Indian Weekender website said: “Though anti-immigration sentiments are overflowing in this election with calls for arbitrarily closing doors of New Zealand, but what is being missed is the point that such calls around immigration affect lives of individual people and communities, thus leaving the responsibility on the wider Kiwi-Indian community to lobby against any knee-jerk policy on immigration and bottom-up their collective voice on this important issue affecting one and all in the community.”
The website ran a poll on the debate and found that viewers favoured National by 40% over Labour at 34%.