Why NZ First held the Government up from supporting a UN agreement
By Richard Harman (author)
NZ First’s new President, Lester Gray, is suggesting that the party managed to temper Labour’s support for the controversial UN Compact on Migration.
He told members in a newsletter on Friday that his party supplied balance to the government on the issue.
The reluctance of the Ardern Government to confirm its support for the Compact seemed at odds with the position taken by many governments it might identify with like Canada, Germany or Britain who all made their support clear.
It now appears that may have been because New Zealand First objected to the compact.
The compact has been opposed by ultra-right wing groups in New Zealand and the United States and by some countries like Israel, Hungary, the US and Australia --- of whom have domestic political issues over migration.
National has also campaigned against the compact – though their move appears to have been a tactical ploy designed to put a wedge into New Zealand First’s base support.
In a newsletter to members sent out on Friday night, the party’s president, Lester Gray has also suggested that NZ First are engaged in a debate with the government about 1080 and the proposed capital gains tax.
“The UN compact on immigration, 1080 and capital gains tax are the hot issues that many people are talking about, and we will never shy away from answering the balance that New Zealand First brings to these topics,” he said.
“However, when I get asked about these issues, I make sure I include in my reply, development and growth of New Zealand’s regions.
“Balanced and fairer employment relations and wage rates, with confidence in New Zealand First’s plans for business from many CEO’s, business leaders, employers and employees.”
He goes on: “Yes, people will always ask questions that are difficult to answer, but the best answers you can give are about the results we have already achieved.
“Our MP’s and Ministers are doing a great job and getting results.”
Gray’s reference to the Compact on Migration would seem to explain why Foreign Minister and NZ First Winston Peters was so non – committal when he was asked about the compact on December 5 last year, five days before the conference to approve the compact opened in Marrakesh.
Asked whether the government would sign the agreement, he said it was still working on it.
A week later in Parliament, a day after the conference opened, again questioned by National, Peters said: “ A final decision has not been made, as we are seeking the best legal advice from Crown Law so that we can make an informed decision.”
In fact, a first draft of the agreement had been distributed to governments in early 2018, and inter-governmental negotiations on the agreement took place at the UN in New York until July last year.
At no stage had New Zealand indicated it did not support the agreement.
The meeting in Marrakech was, in many sense, a formality.
Even so, on December 18 --- a week after the conference concluded --- David Parker, answering questions on behalf of Peters could not confirm that the Government had agreed to support the agreement.
The next day Peters finally released a statement saying New Zealand would support the compact “after being satisfied fears about the document are unfounded.”
“New Zealand is voting for the Compact because we support greater efforts in controlling migration issues while also being confident our own sovereign decision making isn’t compromised,” he said.
In fact, it appears that New Zealand, almost alone among the 164 countries who attended the conference and supported the compact made no formal statement on its position.
Gray was unavailable last night for comment but it would appear that the failure of the government to make a formal statement, was the “balance” that he says NZ First is bringing to the government.
There was a large number of comments on NZ First’s Facebook page attacking the party for supporting the compact, but some came from National Party activists, Hamish Price and Robyn Broughton.
Only one commenter, John Broadhurst, said he was an NZ First member and wouldn’t vote for the party again.
What the whole incident appears to confirm are National’s tactics which are to try and split the New Zealand First vote and thus drag it below five per cent.
It was no accident that National’s Foreign Affairs spokesman, Todd McClay, ran the campaign against the compact. He also oversees National’s polling and is particularly close to Leader, Simon Bridges.
It also demonstrates how vulnerable NZ First are to sudden campaigns like the one against the UN compact which ignite on what Peters called the “alt.right” of New Zealand politics.
The question now is how the party will be influenced by grassroots campaigns against a capital gains tax.