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Does visa-free mean trouble-free travel?

If you were travelling to one of the 53 countries that New Zealand has a visa-free agreement with the last thing that you would expect to happen is to be detained, questioned and deported back home because authorities labelled you as a non-genuine visitor.

Recently it came to my attention that at least three groups of tourists from Singapore and Malaysia have experienced just that – questioned on their arrival, detained and then deported. The local host of one of these groups complained to me about this, and I have been able to gain some insight into what potential tourists, from countries that we have a visa-free agreement with, may face.

This particular group of 12 from Malaysia were invited to visit New Zealand. On their arrival here they were detained and questioned by New Zealand Immigration Service staff because they didn’t believe this group of people were genuine travellers.

During the time they were detained, their host and his lawyer both offered to give guarantees or a bond for the group during their stay, both of which were turned down. The group were deported the next day and went on to holiday at another destination.

I understand that the New Zealand Immigration Service must reserve the right to determine who can enter our country. At the same time, tourism is one of our top earners, and I believe that our welcoming reputation will be tarnished if there are more tourists from countries that have a visa-free arrangement with us instantly deported without a satisfactory explanation.

One would assume with an issue such as this that the New Zealand Immigration Service and Tourism New Zealand would get together to review this situation, however this isn’t the case.

In answers to written questions that I asked of Tourism Minister Mark Burton, he said that refusal of entry to genuine tourists has not been raised as a problem, and that the Ministry hadn’t asked for figures to identify the numbers of visitors seeking entry on a visa waiver arrangement that have been denied entry.

The Tourism Minister said that entry requirements were listed on Tourism New Zealand’s website. How many of us would think of looking for entry requirements on the net for countries where no visas are required? Most of us wouldn’t go out of our way to find warnings that a person could be refused entry.

The Government’s failure to act on the concerns expressed from many following the incidents with Malaysian and Singaporean tourists is indicative of their arrogant attitude and can only do the country harm.

Giving students a real start to working life

Student loans give students who otherwise couldn’t afford it the opportunity to undertake tertiary study - for many they are the only way of financing study. Our country has student loan debt totalling $6.9 billion dollars, and 72% of all borrowers are under thirty.

On average, it will take 10 years to pay a loan off, and that’s based on the average loan of $15,000 – it takes a lot longer for students who took a longer, more expensive, course of study to become a doctor or dentist.

Yesterday, Don Brash announced an initiative that will see student debt paid off faster. National will make all net interest payments on student loans tax deductible against earned income. So, for a person earning $45,000 a year, with a loan of $30,000, our policy will reduce their tax liability by $693 a year. This balance will be credited back onto their loan, and at the end of ten years the tax deduction would cut $7,540 from the total, considerably cutting down payment time.

National recognises that many young people have invested in their futures by taking out a student loan, and that all too often our youngest and brightest head overseas to work to try and pay it off faster. In 2000, 26% of medical graduates from 1997 were working overseas.

I have received many emails from young professionals who live and work in Auckland City, who say that their student loans are making it difficult for them to save and get by, due to the high cost of living in Auckland. I believe that our tax deductions will ease the burden on these people and encourage many more to stay and work in New Zealand.

National is committed to education - we want to support parents and their children. Education is one of the most important tools we have, and National wants to make it easier for people to study and achieve.

Pansy Wong


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