It was a classic Winston Peters moment. We must reduce the immigration to New Zealand and interview everyone as part of a screening process before they come. It was classic because New Zealand First has always been about reducing immigration. This has not been and is not now about a fear of people from foreign nations. It is about making immigration sustainable so that the quality of life enjoyed in New Zealand can be maintained for future generations.
But what really makes this moment stand out, is normally it is accompanied by accusations of racism and scaremongering about non-New Zealanders. This time, though the accusations have been remarkably mute. The accusations, which have historically come from both the left and the right, seem to have largely gone unheeded by the media. Is it perhaps an acknowledgement that Mr Peters has a point? Is it perhaps an acknowledgement that New Zealanders for once actually think this is a significant issue that cannot be ignored?
New Zealand has always been a nation of immigrants. Whether they were Chinese settlers bravely moving to central Otago to participate in the gold rush in a harsh and unforgiving environment, or European settlers coming to establish the colony of New Zealand, they all came by boat. Just like the Maori and Moriori would have done centuries earlier. The boat has been replaced by jet aircraft and the travel time has been cut from several months to a matter of hours, but still a new comer to New Zealand wanting to live here long term will face in a 21st Century context the challenges of settling in a community possibly completely unfamiliar to them.
How well set up are they to cope in terms of expectations and knowledge of New Zealand laws and customs? Do they have a past history that we need to know about (not necessarily a criminal one, though that is certainly very important)? Will any of them need particular help with medical or social issues?
In order to adequately prepare for the arrival of migrants we need to know their circumstances before they arrive. Whilst screening is done in some respect, a number of questions need to be asked about the process:
- Is it fair to all – if not then how to make it fair?
- Is enough effort put into making sure prospective migrants understand the process and that circumventing it will not be tolerated?
- Is enough effort put into ensuring that applications are dealt with in a way that hinders neither them or New Zealand?
By all means come and participate actively in New Zealand society, regardless of where one is from. Just because people such as Mr Peters are saying cut the migrant numbers down, does not imply racism, but is rather an acknowledgement that because of our relatively small size as a nation, our resources and logistical capacity for taking people is more limited than say, the United States or Canada. We have a quality of life that is highly regarded around the world and New Zealanders would very much like to keep it that way.