Winston has caused something of a splash by suggesting that Labour’s proposal to double the number of refugees accepted each year may not proceed.
This raises interesting issues concerning the coalition agreement and what New Zealand First is bound to cooperate with.
The agreement says this about immigration:
• As per Labour’s policy, pursue Labour and New Zealand First’s shared priorities to:
- Ensure work visas issued reflect genuine skills shortages and cut down on low quality international education courses.
- Take serious action on migrant exploitation, particularly of international students.
NZ First’s immigration policy last election was as follows (via the wayback machine):
Make sure that Kiwi workers are at the front of the job queue.
Attract highly skilled migrants by reducing numbers to around 10,000 per annum.
Ensure that immigration policy is based on New Zealand’s interests and the main focus is on meeting critical skills gaps.
Ensure immigration under ‘family reunion’ is strictly controlled.
Increase the residency rules around NZ Superannuation from the current 10 years to 25 years.
Increase, the Permanent Residency qualification period from the current two-years.
Make sure effective measures are put in place to stop the exploitation of migrant workers with respect to wages, safety and work conditions. In Christchurch and elsewhere there is evidence of exploitation of migrant workers.
Develop strategies to encourage the regional dispersion of immigration to places other than Auckland and the main centres.
Substantially increase the minimum English requirement.
On the other hand Labour’s policy is pretty clear:
Labour will increase the refugee quota to 1,500.
This will continue Labour’s proud tradition of welcoming victims of war and disaster to our shores, which extends back to taking in refugees during World War II and is just as needed today, with conflicts such as in Syria creating the largest number of displaced persons since 1945.
And what about the all important process provisions to resolve these matters?
Again from the coalition agreement:
The Labour and New Zealand First Parties will work together in coalition government in good faith and with no surprises, reflecting appropriate notice and consultation in important matters, including the ongoing development of policy. The parties will cooperate with each other in respect of executive and parliamentary activities, consult closely, and operate with mutual respect to achieve agreed outcomes.
This includes a commitment to agreed policies and programmes, and consensus decision-making. Protocols will be established for coalition management, policy consultation, select committee management and non-routine procedural motions.
The Labour Green confidence and supply agreement with the Greens has this relatively oblique line:
Review, and adequately fund and support, the family re-unification scheme for refugees.
The Green policy is to gradually increase the number of refugees accepted to 4,000 per year.
So what happened yesterday?
Chris Bramwell at Radio New Zealand has the details:
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has thrown a major spanner in the works of Labour’s plan to double the refugee quota, saying his party never agreed to that.
Labour campaigned on raising the refugee quota to 1500 per year and has consistently said it would do this within its first term.
It had already started boosting capacity at the Māngere Refugee Resettlement Centre in anticipation of an increased intake of refugees.
In the May budget it put aside $6.2 million over four years of new operating funding, along with $7.7 million over four years to build and operate two new accommodation blocks at the centre.
But yesterday as he touched down on Nauru for the Pacific Islands Forum, Winston Peters, threw the government a curve ball.
“We never made a commitment to double the refugee quota.”
This appeared to be news to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
“I would want to check the context of all of those questions [to Mr Peters], but as I’ve said that commitment still remains.”
Ms Ardern said the policy to double the quota was still on the table.
“We haven’t finalised all the details of that commitment, but that remains part of our policy.
“It hasn’t come through cabinet, that’s an accurate representation, but that is still a commitment that we have.”
Supporting a budget that included millions of dollars to build infrastructure necessary for the increase but then questioning the increase is rather odd. What else did they think the facilities would be used for?
Clearly the matter needs to go to Cabinet for sign off. But I cannot see how New Zealand First can back away from the policy.
After all the proposal is for a paltry increase to 1,500 refugees a year. By comparison Australia with all of its issues last year took over 24,000 refugees.
New Zealand can and should do better. And Winston should not get in the way.