Does Andrew Little Have a Point On Immigration Policy? No, he does not.

As with any election year, political parties tend to ramp up their immigration rhetoric, and with five months left until we know who will be leading our country for the next three years, this trend is already well underway. 

With net permanent and long-term migration (arrivals minus departures) sitting at approximately 72,000 for the year up to March 2017, an increase of 6.5 percent on the same period last year, politicians up and down the country are throwing their two cents in, especially in light of Auckland’s continuing population boom and an ever worsening housing crisis. 

Many connect the two, with immigrants often being blamed for using up the limited supply of houses and being scapegoated as the cause of Auckland’s burgeoning population. 

The government have recently tried to address the immigration ‘problem’ by increasing the amount of money temporary migrants must earn to able to qualify for the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) to at least $48,859 per year, a move Labour Leader Andrew Little has leapt on, complaining it’s not enough. He sees the move as proof the government is out of touch with New Zealand, explaining that as a country “now, more than ever, we need to pause and rethink our current settings.” Should Labour win the election, Little has promised to cut immigration by “tens of thousands.” 

Despite the populist sentiment oozing out of Little’s statement, he did provide a watered down preface to the comment, agreeing that “New Zealand needs immigrants and is all the better for the skills and rich culture they bring.”

With net immigration having increased 6.5 percent nationally on 2016 and net migration being in the negatives as recently as 2013 (it was —3,300 in 2012, and—2,500 in 2013), he may have a point. 

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse explained that “the Government has a Kiwis first approach to immigration and these changes are designed to strike the right balance between reinforcing the temporary nature of Essential Skills work visas and encouraging employers to take on more Kiwis and invest in the training to upskill them.”

But maybe Little, English, and others have this whole issue wrong. It is very likely that they are promoting this rhetoric in order to present themselves as capable and strong leaders.

Surprisingly, it is ACT’s David Seymour who is speaking the most sense on this issue, chastising National for beginning a ‘bidding war’ on immigration, with Labour making ‘meaningless promises’ in an attempt to look stronger.

The sense ACT is speaking comes through their focus being squarely on providing infrastructure as opposed to reducing immigration. This is especially so following Newshub journalist Lloyd Burr’s recent opinion piece entitled ‘Which immigrants will Labour ban?, which pointed out that Little’s plan to cut immigration by “tens of thousands” is likely to be impossible without causing some sizeable diplomatic and economic issues. 

Little seems to have licked his finger, raised it in the air, decided that the wind is blowing in the direction of immigration this month, and latched onto it to show the ‘leadership’ he is under pressure to create. Seymour on the other hand has said “ACT would address both problems with one policy: letting councils keep some GST from building projects. This would fund new local infrastructure while also incentivising councils to allow new housing development.”

Whether you think ACT’s policy promise holds the answers to the convoluted issues of both immigration and housing/infrastructure better than National, Labour, and others is entirely up to you. What really matters is you understand who has thought their policies through, who is providing false solutions to real problems, and who is merely scapegoating immigrants to gain ground in the polls. 

This article first appeared in Issue 9, 2017.
Posted 10:59am Sunday 30th April 2017 by Joe Higham.