The cynical politics of immigration
By Richard Harman (author)
The Government is still not saying whether it will sign the UN Compact on Migration.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said a decision was not needed until next Monday when the Pact will be available for signing in Marrakesh at a UN summit on immigration.
However the Compact will be formally adopted by the conference with the bang of a gavel when it opens today.
And though the previous National Government committed to working towards signing the Global Compact, National has now said it would not sign the Pact – though its reasons for saying that appear flimsy at best.
National's latest move has placed them alongside some of the more extreme right-wing fringes of social media; however the party appears willing to risk that reputational damage because it sees its position as a way of putting pressure on Winston Peters and NZ First.
“We don't want to get caught up in a P.C. nonsense coming out of the UN,” Bridges told POLITIK.
“I genuinely thought the Prime Minister and Winston would take the same tack ultimately.
“It does look like they aren't going to sign which I think will be a big mistake.
“Certainly for Winston Peters.”
It is becoming clear that National has a strategy now of trying to push NZ First out of Parliament at the next election
The party has taken to issuing press releases highlighting the refusal of NZ First Leader, Winston Peters, to oppose the pact.
National's objections are challenging to comprehend because much of what is now in the Compact was agreed in the New York Declaration in 2016 when it was in Government.
Though National claims the pact makes “ legal and illegal migration the same”, in fact, it calls on countries to enhance the availability of legal migration.
But it does propose that illegal migrants be able to access legal and medical services and have their basic rights upheld and says that immigrant detention should only be used as a means of last resort.
National also claims that it calls for restrictions on freedom of speech and the media.
But all the pact says is that what is popularly called “hate speech” should be made illegal.
The Human Rights Act (1993) already does that.
And it does not call for restriction on the media; it merely says public funding should be stopped to "media outlets that systematically promote intolerance, xenophobia, racism and other forms of discrimination towards migrants, in full respect for the freedom of the media.”
The Prime Minister yesterday set out her understanding of what the Pact meant.
“Some claims have been made around the legal standing of that document even though it makes it very clear that a nation maintains its sovereign rights and it doesn’t impact on our ability to act as we dictate on policy,” said Jacinda Ardern.
She said there had also been claims that it was not legally binding.
“So I have questioned that.
"We are seeking further advice, and it is not signed until the 17th.”
The UN’s Special Representative for International Migration, Louise Arbour, in a statement on the eve of the conference said “The Compact clearly acknowledges that no State can address migration alone and upholds its sovereignty and its obligations under international law and therefore presents a non-legally binding, cooperative framework that builds on the commitments agreed upon by the States themselves two years prior in the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants.”
Ironically the-then National Government participated in that New York conference which came at the same time as when New Zealand was playing a high profile at the UN with both then-Prime Minister John Key and Foreign Minister, Murray McCully in New York.
Then Permanent Representative to the UN Gerard van Bohemen addressed the conference committing New Zealand to “play our part as we work towards the adoption of Global Compacts on refugees and migrants that are impactful, ambitious, based upon legal obligations and standards, and harness the key commitments on forced displacement made at the World Humanitarian Summit earlier this year.”
However National is not taking the stance it is because of any in-depth analysis of the Pact or regard for its own history.
It is simply intending to try and play wedge politics with NZ First by outflanking it among the anti-immigration electorate.
It is unlikely to stop on immigration, and it is possible we may now see a swing to the right by National as it continues to squeeze NZ First.
Climate change policy would be another obvious area where it might strike and whether it would be willing to continue with its bipartisan approach to climate change if it saw a political gain in not doing so is a real question.
National’s aggressive stance is troubling New Zealand First.
The problem the party faces is that it also faces pressure from Labour’s left who would prefer that Labour was in coalition with the Greens.
The Greens know that, and senior Green sources have told POLITIK that the party would be willing to consider a coalition with Labour after the next election.
The Greens are also said to be putting pressure on Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway to sign the Immigration Pact.
However at this stage, NZ First is not confirming whether it would support signing.
Last Wednesday the Foreign Minister, Winston Peters, told Parliament the Government was “still working on it.”
Peters then defended the Pact.
“It says clearly that the compact explicitly reaffirms national sovereignty and recognises the ability for Governments to set their own migration policies,” he said.
“Then it goes on to say that it's not legally binding.”
But National's politicking has not been not lost on Peters.
Asked last night about National's claims that it was getting support from NZ First voters because of its position on the Compact, in a text to POLITIK he said “National on 19 Sept 2016 promoted that Resolution at the UN. IE National started the Compact. That's a fact. “
It is unusual for political parties to play such partisan politics with major international agreements like this.
Labour opposed the Trans Pacific Partnership, but that was a much more substantial opposition built on widespread community scepticism about the agreement.
The danger for National now is that if it cannot drive NZ First right out of politics it would seem to stand no chance of forming any sort of Government with it after the next election and that would most likely mean that National could not form a Government at all.