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Playing Politics With Refugees

Thursday 9 May 2002

Speech by Hon Richard Prebble, Leader ACT New Zealand,

to the Dunedin Club, 33 Melville Street, Dunedin,

on Wednesday, 8th May at 6pm

This week I have been very critical of our Prime Minister's actions in Indonesia. I have accused the Prime Minister of refugee diplomacy.

Helen Clark, in order to win favour in Jakarta, has announced that New Zealand is letting in another 140 refugees, mainly from Afghanistan and Iraq. Most are queue jumpers who have paid people-smugglers to take them to Australia and have been turned back to Indonesia.

Helen Clark says it is irrelevant how the refugees got to Indonesia, and they are all certified refugees by the United Nations' agency.

Our government claims that people smuggling is worse than murder. The new penalty for people smuggling is 20 years in jail. Life for murder is just 10 years jail.

People smugglers would not be in business if the people did not pay them. New Zealand is rewarding those who pay people smugglers and queue jump, by offering them places in New Zealand.

The genuine Afghani refugees are in Iran and Pakistan. Those who are in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand almost certainly were people-smuggled.

Helen Clark boasts this week that she gave a warning in Indonesia against people smuggling. She did nothing of the sort. She rewarded the people-smuggling trade.

My objection is more fundamental. I accuse the Prime Minister of trading in people to make political capital. These 140 people are future New Zealand citizens. The Prime Minister has no right to give away future New Zealand citizenships, just to have some good foreign press.

The same question that is asked for any new citizen needs to be asked of these refugees. Will they be able to make, within a reasonable time, a positive contribution to our nation or will they be for the rest of the their lives a drain on our health, education and welfare systems?

Judging from the Tampa refugees, it is safe to predict that most of the 140 will be unqualified, uneducated and unemployable. Each family will conservatively cost the taxpayer at least one million dollars. We do know that these 140 will, within five years, become 300, because once the refugees get residence then their family members qualify for family reunification.

Helen Clark is not the first politician to use our refugee quota for politics. Don McKinnon, as Minister of Foreign Affairs got Immigration to let in 50 Somali refugees to help New Zealand win a place on the Security Council. Few people remember or care that New Zealand served a term on the Security Council. The 50 original refugees have grown to a community of 500. Most of the adult Somalis are still unemployed.

There is a very significant future cost of refugee diplomacy. Every New Zealander has paid. Every New Zealander used to have the right to live in Australia and, when in Australia, receive all the benefits of Australian citizenship - to work, receive welfare and health, and vote. As a young man, I spent one wonderful summer in Perth enjoying the ANZAC birthright.

The Australian Government two years ago took this privilege away because, after warning both National and Labour about our refugee policy being a back door to Australia, and Helen Clark refusing to change it, the Australian government closed the door to all Kiwis.

Were the Australians right? In this case they were. Ninety percent of all refugees let into New Zealand from Vietnam and Cambodia - most of whom did not meet Australia's standards - are now living in Sydney and Melbourne.

Australia has a real problem with Vietnamese gangs, some of whom got entry from New Zealand. We won't be able to export these new refugees to Australia.

Successive governments have not given refugees sufficient support. After a few days in the Mangere Centre they are just turned out into the community - a community totally unequipped.

Schools are not funded for the needs of children who have seen terrible horrors. As an MP I have been called in by school principals - all Labour voters - who told me, all our special needs grants have gone on one refugee family. We have other children with learning needs.

For three years this government has just talked about giving extra funding. They won't because that would show the real cost as many millions of dollars.

It's hard to get accurate figures but I am told that one group of 50 refugees, by family reunification, has become 500.

When we look at immigration last year, the biggest number was through family reunification.

Only a minority of immigrants are qualified on the points system. Put it another way, most new immigrants were unskilled and unlikely to make a positive economic contribution. Does it matter?

Consider this. Six thousand children arrived at school this year to find no teacher or classrooms. Why? Because of extra unplanned immigration. The education of every pupil at those schools was affected.

New Zealand is the only country in the OECD to have its Reserve Bank increase interest rates not once, but twice this year. In May, interest rates are expected to increase another half a percent, putting up everyone's mortgages, HP interest and the cost of finance to business. Why?

Auckland house prices have gone from a 10-year low last February to all-time record prices today.

Why? Extra immigration, most of whom have gone to South Auckland. We are back in the old cycle. The regions are having their economic life squeezed out in order to slow down Auckland's housing market.

It's not just the refugee policy. The Labour government has also been reckless in its immigration policies. I believe governments should not give the immigration portfolio to second-rate Ministers, but they should regard immigration as among the most important decisions a government makes. It is quality, not quantity that is important.

People are our nation and our future. The Helen Clark Labour government has created all the conditions for a New Zealand Le Pen. Ordinary working people have been ignored - they don't qualify for a community card or a state house; they have been zoned out of the school of their choice; they can't afford health insurance so they are the ones on the hospital waiting lists; they are paying more for petrol and won't watch Maori TV. Violent crime is up. Now, immigration is putting up their mortgages.

ACT is no Le Pen. ACT is not Winston Peters. As part of the international community of nations, we should take some refugees. There are 20 million refugees in the world. The USA, that takes more refugees per capita than New Zealand, is much more selective.

Like America, Australia and many other OECD countries, New Zealand should be far more selective in the refugees we do take.

An uneducated Afghan farmer is just not going to make it in New Zealand. If, against the odds, he does become economically self-sufficient, it is at a high education cost. If he ends up on the unemployment benefit, he is a life-long cost. And what about his wife? In New Zealand, to have a decent income, both husband and wife must work.

I thought it interesting that the warm, gushing Holmes show on the Tampa refugees, thanked the captain of the Tampa, but did not interview any female Tampa refugee. All we saw was some film shots of women with shawls over their heads.

Both men and women refugees need to be able to become economically self-sufficient. Families with only one adult capable of working are doomed to be an underclass.

Refugees who have qualifications and skills at least have a reasonable chance of becoming contributing members of society. If we are taking 750 out of 20 million refugees, we owe it to our nation to select carefully. Doing it by press conference in Indonesia is the worst way imaginable.

Finally, I think Helen Clark, like Don McKinnon before her, is thinking more of her retirement job in the United Nations, rather than of their duty to this country. It's the worst sort of politics and I am ashamed of Helen Clark's actions.


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