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Gordon Campbell on the lack of leadership on refugees

Gordon Campbell on the lack of leadership on refugees

John Key still doesn’t get it. At least he’s now talking about raising the UN quota, after – only last Monday - flatly denying that there was any need to do so. Yet even this potential turnaround (the step has yet to be taken ) seems weirdly out of whack. As RNZ has reported:

Mr Key said the Government needed to get good advice before upping its intake in order to ensure other refugees already here were not disadvantaged.

Huh? Surely, the only way that existing refugees would be disadvantaged would be if Key upped the intake without increasing the funds or the services allocated to meet their needs. Incredible. Is Key saying he needs to be advised by officials on whether existing refugees should be made to cross-subsidise the new arrivals via spreading the existing inadequate resources in this area even more thinly? Clearly, Key and his Cabinet colleagues still need to get their heads around the ideas that extra and substantial new funds and resources have to be allocated. Just as… a few years ago, Key suddenly found over a billion dollars to bail out the investors in Canterbury Finance – or the government decided it could afford to spend $26 million on a flag campaign, or could readily find up to $40 million for an America’s Cup yacht race. In the Budget, there’s always a sum set aside for discretionary spending. Will Key and English be using it for this purpose – but without, you know, leaving the health system disadvantaged?

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In reality, even our annual UN refugee quota of 750 refugees seems to be about as reliable as China’s recent figures for economic growth. Reportedly, the special allocation of 100 slots in this year’s intake for Syrian refugees has actually come down to only 83 eventuating. This is not the first time these kind of shortfalls have occurred, as this 2011 story indicated:

Refugees are missing out on hundreds of places in New Zealand as the government regularly fails to meet its 750-person annual quota. The target has been met just once in the past six years, figures released under the Official Information Act reveal.

Key simply cannot be trusted on this issue. His claims earlier this week that New Zealand is doing its bit - in June he said "our humanitarian position is, I think, top of the class” - can be readily refuted. Tracey Barnett did so in June:

Prime Minister Key said New Zealand gets “thousands” of refugees. He mentioned “3,000-4,000” annually, when family reunification numbers are included.

Fact: If the Prime Minister’s perception is that this number is “just about right” at 3,000-4,000 thousand, then the Prime Minister would be endorsing over tripling our current in-take. In reality, New Zealand gets approximately 1170 refugees annually, all categories included. This figure includes 750 from the UNHCR quota, about 300 for family reunification, and approximately 120 asylum seekers. In recent years, even those numbers have not been filled…..

Fact: When it comes to refugee in-take, New Zealand is far closer to the bottom of the class. New UNHCR figures show we are 90th in the world in the total number of refugees we host per capita. Worse, if you figure by our relative wealth, then we rank 116th. Our world standing has actually dropped by three places since last year. These figures were released last week.

Refugees have made a significant contribution to New Zealand life: socially, culturally and economically. As I pointed out a few days ago, John Key’s mother was herself a refugee to Britain, from persecution in Europe. And besides, refugees – like any new arrival here – will be paying income tax and GST. Once younger refugees are educated (on recent figures, just over four out of ten will be under 18 years of age ) there is no reason to think they will not be as economically productive as any other migrants to this country.

It has been quite a week for Key. He’s gone through a complete evolution – from flat denial to abject dithering to what looks like eventual capitulation. For the public it has been an interesting insight into the Political Calculating Machine that currently runs New Zealand, in lieu of genuine leadership.

Williamson, Again

Talking of ugly sights and lack of leadership… Maurice Williamson seems to have been granted an annual licence to embarrass the National Party, and its that time of year again. Also as per usual, Williamson’s recent exercise in sexism and homophobia has passed by with barely a murmur from his leader. Regularly, Key opts for a “that’s our Maurice” line of indulgence when it comes to the foibles of the Pakuranga MP. Williamson has been there before, many times. In 2012, there were the awards ceremony jokes about Muslims. And earlier again:

In 2007, Mr Williamson was forced to apologise for an email he sent responding to a television report on obesity: "If some people can't lose weight no matter what ... how come there were no fat people in the Nazi concentration camps?"

Muslims, gays, women, fat people ….Hey can’t you take a joke? Reminds me of this skit - but unfortunately, Key won’t be delivering the punchline anytime soon.

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