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Brash: A responsible middle course

Don Brash MP National Party Leader

09 August 2005

A responsible middle course

An address to Wanganui Public Meeting, Wanganui Function Centre.

Ladies and gentlemen, in the very last speech which Helen Clark made in Parliament as Leader of the Opposition she said she was "not prepared to stand back and see the best and brightest of New Zealanders leave this country, taking their ideas and their businesses with them. We are going to build a future here for those people."

Well, six years later, New Zealanders are leaving the country at an increasing rate, and Helen Clark has stopped talking about the exodus because she has absolutely no solution to the problem.

Since Labour came to power at the end of 1999, Kiwis have been departing for Australia, permanently or on a long-term basis, at a rate of about 600 a week - like losing three-quarters of Wanganui's population every year. And of course we have been losing Kiwis to other destinations as well. Some come back, but most do not.

Many of those who leave are those we can least afford to lose - some of our brightest and best. Nearly a quarter of all tertiary-educated New Zealanders are now living overseas.

Many of our skilled trades-people and professionals, our teachers and our nurses, have moved on to Australia and elsewhere. (And in case you imagine that Labour's outrageous student loan bribe would fix the problem, it would not: contrary to public perception, very few people with student loans have gone overseas - only 6% of the student loans currently outstanding are owed by people overseas.)

But that is not what I intend to talk about today, even though this outflow of Kiwis is highly relevant to my topic today - namely National's immigration policy.

Let me first put immigration in context. National's entire economic and social policy plan will directly affect the role of immigration in the development of this country.

And let me put it bluntly.

If as a country we continue to allow our education standards to slip; if we continue to over-tax, to over-regulate and thus in every way to impede the business investment that is the key driver of higher incomes for working New Zealanders; if we continue to waste scarce taxpayers' money on bureaucracy rather than frontline services in education and health; if we think that 14% of our workforce on welfare is good enough at a time of buoyant international conditions; and if we allow spiralling Treaty-related political correctness to undermine race relations in this country - then we will continue to lose at least 600 Kiwis a week heading to Australia.

If we don't make the necessary change in direction, then this outflow will continue and accelerate, as it has over the past year.

And if that happens, we will of necessity require at least a matching inflow of new migrants to fill the gaps.

In my view that is not good enough.

Instead of immigration adding interesting diversity, skills and energy to our society, under current policies immigration has become a process which is threatening to change the very nature of our society.

And I think it is that factor - the risk that immigration could radically change the nature of our society - which underlies the very genuine concern many people have about immigration.

That is one of the reasons why National is focused on lifting New Zealand incomes, on catching up with the rest of the developed world, so that we and our children and our grandchildren will choose to build our futures here in New Zealand.

In that context, immigration can contribute positively to the future of this country.

But only by stemming the outflow of Kiwis will New Zealand, in twenty years' time, still be recognisably Kiwi.

National's immigration policy offers a disciplined approach. Labour's approach is too lax, whilst on the other hand New Zealand First too often appeals to crude prejudice. National's policy is a responsible middle ground of "managed immigration".

As you know, New Zealand is a nation of immigrants and the descendants of immigrants.

I think of myself as a fifth generation New Zealander, and it is true that some of my ancestors arrived in New Zealand in the 1840s. It is also true that I was born not much more than a stone's throw from here! But my maternal grandmother was born in England and my maternal grandfather in Australia.

My wife was born in Singapore (as has been noted from time to time!). Two of my three children were born in the United States.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I had some friends around for dinner. There were 14 people present - two had been born in the United Kingdom, two in the United States, and two in Singapore. All were making a really useful contribution to New Zealand.

And there are New Zealanders all around us, and in our recent history, who were not born here. Labour Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage was born in Australia. Suffragette Kate Sheppard was born in England. Former Dunedin mayor Sukhi Turner was born in India. Former Secretary of the Treasury Henry Lang was born in Austria. Lawyer Mai Chen was born in Taiwan. Michael Cullen and Peter Brown were born in England. Pansy Wong was born in China. Former Chief Justice Thomas Eichelbaum was born in Germany. David Tua was born in Samoa. Irene van Dyk was born in South Africa.

And it seems like half the All Blacks were born in the Pacific Islands, or are first generation New Zealanders! Notwithstanding the setback at the weekend, we can all be immensely grateful for their contribution!

At the last census, nearly 700,000 New Zealanders were born overseas - more than one in six of us!

So let there be no doubt: we are an immigrant people, and owe much of what we are to very recent immigrants or the descendants of very recent immigrants. Even most people who regard themselves as Maori New Zealanders have several recent immigrants among their forebears.

At present we need an inflow of immigrants if we are to avoid an actual decline in our total population. In common with most other developed countries, our birth rate is now below that needed to maintain a stable population.

Taken together with the major outflow of people, this leads to the inevitability of a declining population in the absence of an inflow of immigrants.

In one sense, it is our dependence on a strong inflow of immigrants to replace the large number of Kiwis who head off for greener pastures each year which makes National's other policies so crucial: the first and most important part of National's population policy is to build a society sufficiently attractive to allow people to achieve their aspirations at home.

But even if we do all that right - and it won't be achieved overnight - we need to properly manage our immigration policy.

Labour's current policy has failed.

There is resentment that too many immigrants, and especially those who arrive as refugees, go straight onto a benefit, and live for years at the expense of the hard-working New Zealand taxpayer.

There is resentment that, when we let in one refugee, we then let in his extended family group as well. Like the case of the refugee who brought in his father, mother, two dependent brothers, two dependent sisters, a dependent sister-in-law and her four dependent children!

There is resentment that some immigrants come into New Zealand for the primary purpose of gaining access to our free education system for their children, with no intention of settling in, or paying tax in, New Zealand for the long haul.

There is resentment that some immigrants flout the laws protecting our fisheries, and are involved in much more serious crimes of a kind that, to date, New Zealand has been largely free of - kidnapping and extortion for example.

There is resentment, at least among those wanting to buy their first home, at the impact of immigration on house prices.

There is fear of Islamist fundamentalism, exacerbated when a Maori convert to Islam expresses admiration for Osama bin Laden and a Muslim (Labour) Member of Parliament contends that the Koran is right to say that adulterers and homosexuals should be stoned to death.

It is these resentments and these fears that underlie the very real concern many people have about current immigration policy.

And while there is a widespread view that, under Labour, the Immigration Service has allowed into the country too many people who have no respect for New Zealand values, there is also anger at how difficult Labour's bureaucracy makes it for people who at least appear to be exactly the kind of immigrants we want to encourage.

Like the case of the wife of Dr Dean Kenny, former All Black, recently reported in the media. He complained that the Immigration Service had initially turned down the application of his Welsh-born wife even though they had been married for nine years and had two daughters, both of whom had New Zealand passports. The Service had asked for photos of him and his wife together, copies of letters, proof of shared income, shared bank accounts and evidence of public or family recognition of the relationship. The Asian spouses of New Zealand citizens encounter the same problem routinely.

Or the case of Mrs M Taylor, described in a letter she wrote to the Listener. New Zealand-born herself, she decided after 20 years overseas to return to New Zealand. She described gaining residency for her non-New Zealand husband as "an appalling trial, financially and emotionally.

Married for 12 years and now with three children, we sent our wedding certificates, children's birth certificates and family photographs to immigration, only for them to be returned and we were told that we hadn't fulfilled the requirements of our application and further proof of the validity of our marriage was required, not less proof that we were sexually exclusive during our marriage....

It's understandable that there needs to be a rigorous system", she wrote, "but why are born-and-bred New Zealand passport holders put through this? Do you want us back in the country or not? You had my heart, but somewhere along the way, while I was dealing with yet another irritating and pointlessly discriminating piece of legislation and form-filling, you lost it."

Or the case of the Dutch expert in growing hydroponic tomatoes under glass - desperately needed to ensure the commercial viability of an operation employing hundreds of people, but kept waiting for months and months with his Dutch wife and young New Zealand-born children while the Immigration Service pondered whether to grant him permanent residence.

The National Party is totally opposed to basing New Zealand's immigration policy on race, and recognises that immigrants of many races have made an enormous contribution to our society. And we are totally opposed to any suggestion that we should establish Gestapo-like groups of "patriotic New Zealanders" to swoop on suspected overstayers.

We recognise also that some of the public resentment against immigrants is not well-founded on fact: contrary to public perceptions, for example, crime perpetrated by Asian immigrants is very significantly less than crime perpetrated by other ethnic groups.

We recognise that immigrants who come into the country from quite different cultures can often become productive and self-supporting members of the community quite quickly. It happens here as it has with successive waves of migrants to the United States. The educational achievements of Asian students in our high schools prove the point.

Even refugees, who are statistically more likely to be reliant on taxpayer support than other immigrants, can often become productive members of the community. Older New Zealanders will remember those refugees who fled for their lives from Nazi-controlled Europe in the 'thirties and 'forties and went on to become highly valued members of the community, including one who lived with my parents when I was a child, and went on to become Deputy Government Statistician. The two-times winner of the New Zealand pie-making contest was a refugee from Cambodia.

So we are not opposed to immigration, or even opposed to a limited number of refugees. On the contrary, as I have already noted, New Zealand needs a steady flow of quality immigrants to offset our own low birth rate and large exodus of Kiwis.

But all is not well.

Our first challenge, to repeat, is to raise after-tax incomes in New Zealand so that fewer Kiwis want to leave - and we can thus maintain a gradually growing population without a massive inflow of immigrants. It is the need for a massive inflow which causes strains on our social and physical infrastructure and which in turn generates resentment against the immigrants themselves.

But our second challenge is to ensure that, to the extent we do need a steady flow of immigrants - and that certainly looks likely for the foreseeable future - those immigrants are ones who will benefit existing New Zealanders and enhance New Zealand society.

We certainly do not want those who come with the intention of living off the generosity of the New Zealand taxpayer - to live indefinitely on a benefit, to enjoy taxpayer-funded hospital care, or to exploit the free education system, only to head back overseas as soon as the benefits are no longer needed.

Nor, frankly, do we want immigrants who come with no intention of becoming New Zealanders or adopting New Zealand values. We do not want those who insist on their right to spit in the street; or demand the right to practise female circumcision; or believe that New Zealand would be a better place if gays and adulterers were stoned. If immigrants don't like the way we do things in New Zealand, then they chose the wrong country to migrate to.

Nor do we want people who come here with a job offer, get permanent residence, and then abscond from their workplace within weeks of arriving in our country, probably onto a benefit.

And we will certainly keep a very watchful eye on those who advocate violence in the name of religion. We will not tolerate those who incite the sort of violence we have seen overseas, and will move quickly to expel immigrants who do so. National will make paramount the security of our nation.

We want immigrants who want to become New Zealanders. Many will, of course, want to retain aspects of their own culture, and New Zealand will be the better for that cultural diversity. But we want immigrants who will be Chinese New Zealanders, or Pacific Island New Zealanders - not New Zealand Chinese or New Zealand Pacific Islanders. (In exactly the same way, German immigrants who went to the United States became German Americans, not American Germans. And the Italians, Greeks and Eastern Europeans who have migrated to Australia have become proudly Australian, while still preserving important aspects of their cultural heritage.)

The bedrock of our immigration policy is that, with the exception of a limited quota of refugees whom we will take as our commitment to assist those displaced from their own countries by oppression or war, immigrants must be likely to provide a net benefit to existing New Zealanders.

Let me outline the key components of our policy.

* First, National will focus priority on skilled migrants, with greater recognition of proven work experience in areas of skill shortage. We will work closely with business and industry groups to identify areas of shortage, and take prompt action. For skilled migrant applicants and those seeking work permits, there is at present insufficient credit given to those trades-people with successful work experience but no formal qualifications. Despite well-known skill shortages in agriculture, it took Labour far too long to acknowledge that, with changes to the occupational shortages list.

* We will introduce a four-year qualification period of Provisional Residence for all new migrants. Permanent Residence will be dependent on satisfying a good conduct requirement during this probationary period. Those who break the criminal law will be swiftly returned to their homeland. The period of Provisional Residence will count towards citizenship requirements.

* We will extend the benefit stand-down period from two years to four years. In welcoming new migrants to our country, the expectation should be that they will be independent of taxpayer support. A four-year benefit stand-down period sends a clear message to those people with inadequate family sponsorship and insufficient skills, and to those travelling illegally to New Zealand.

* A National Government will merge the New Zealand Immigration Service and the Citizenship Office into a new Department of Citizenship and Immigration, properly resourced and managed to provide efficient and secure services, with a case management focus. We will ensure the integrity and professionalism of the immigration and citizenship process.

The Immigration Service is currently a shambles, characterised by administrative delays, secrecy, bureaucratic blunders and ineffective audit and fraud investigation. The integrity of our borders and homeland security are at risk from this failing agency.

* We will require Family Stream sponsors to be able to demonstrate that they are able to fulfill all sponsorship obligations for the four-year benefit stand-down period. All obligations will be strictly enforced. Sponsored family members do not have to meet the skills, investment or language criteria of skilled migrants precisely because they have sponsors. Currently, sponsors are not required to provide any evidence of their ability to fulfill their obligations. Many sponsors are in fact not really in any position to offer sponsorship, but feel pressured by family to do so. After years of inaction, the Labour Government finally began data matching to enforce sponsorship obligations last month.

* National will reduce the refugee quotas to a total of 750. The Refugee Family Quota will be scrapped and included in the reduced quota, and limited to immediate family only. The funds released by this reduction in the total will be reallocated across the smaller number of refugees to improve English language and resettlement outcomes.

* We will ensure migration cases are dealt with quickly and fairly but with reduced access to appeals which are simply designed to delay and frustrate migration compliance action.

* We will legislate to make it clear that appeal authorities may make personal cost orders against parties and their representatives who file unmeritorious claims.

* We will require business migrants to create at least two permanent full-time jobs for non-family members, through an emphasis on job creation rather than expensive business plans. This is similar to the Australian approach. National welcomes entrepreneurial individuals who will create jobs and wealth here.

* We will require more active financial investment by Investor migrants, including a minimum four-year investment period. We will remove Labour's current policy, which demands that investors surrender funds to the government for five years with interest payable only at the inflation rate: that policy seems unlikely to attract significant interest on the part of potential immigrants.

* Finally, National will require English language skills from business and investor migrants that are appropriate to the nature of their experience and proposed business. The current requirements are restrictive, and insufficiently flexible.

We believe this comprehensive set of policies will ensure that those who want to migrate to New Zealand are dealt with fairly, efficiently and courteously, and that those whom we welcome to New Zealand are those who will make the greatest contribution to existing New Zealanders.

But, as already indicated, even more important than determining appropriate criteria for immigrants is adopting policies which will encourage New Zealanders to remain in New Zealand.

I entered politics three years ago because I was desperately worried that the growing gap between after-tax incomes in New Zealand on the one hand and after-tax incomes in Australia and other developed countries on the other was enticing New Zealanders to leave and not come back.

This election is about addressing that gap, and fixing the other social issues that lead New Zealanders to abandon the land of their birth.

This election is about achieving a better deal for our children in education; it is about getting better incentives through lower taxes, and taking the pressure off working families; it is about getting safer communities by abolishing parole for violent and repeat criminals; about cutting back the bureaucracy and getting funding through to the front-line services in health, education and policing; and about finishing off Treaty settlements quickly, and building a successful multi-cultural society.

Ultimately, it is about building a society that our children will choose to live in.

National has a clear plan to do just that.

ENDS


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