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Dumbing Down New Zealand: Richard Prebble Speech

Dumbing Down New Zealand: Speech To ACT Upper South Divisional Conference

Sunday 15th Oct 2000 Richard Prebble Speech -- Economy

The ACT Party has been leading the debate over the migration of skilled New Zealanders. ACT has raised the subject of migration because it is the most important issue facing our nation. The young are our future.

Today I want to raise the other half of the issue, immigration. The coalition government, either by deliberate choices or by accident, is dumbing down New Zealand.

You need to drill down into the statistics to find out what is happening.

The ninth floor spin doctors say that immigration and migration figures are improving.

Helen Clark said on the Holmes show – “Fewer people left in the year to August this year than last year”.

If we look at net migration figures what the Prime Minister says appears to be correct.

The net loss of population in the year to August 2000 was -10,032, compared to -11,224 in 1999.

So what are we worried about?

When you do your homework, as ACT has done, a very different picture emerges.

First - the total number of New Zealanders leaving has never been higher. Last year 72,083 New Zealanders left - 4,080 more than the year before, a record.

Second is the quality of the people leaving. Traditionally the people who left New Zealand were those with the least investment in the country. Sir Robert Muldoon’s statement that migration from New Zealand to Australia lifted the IQ of each country was correct. The majority of New Zealanders who left had no professional qualifications or skills. In the 1980s highly skilled New Zealanders were the least likely to give up their good jobs, incomes and prosperity for the uncertainty of a foreign land.

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Times have changed.

Migration figures show we are losing some of our best and brightest.

In the year to August some 19,235 professionals and people with skills left New

Zealand permanently – an all time record.

ACT has calculated that it cost the taxpayer in excess of a billion dollars to pay for the education of these skilled New Zealanders who have left. This is indirect state aid to Australia.

What about skilled immigration? Doesn’t it balance out?

There were 13,739 qualified immigrants entering New Zealand to the year ending August. The net loss of skill was -5,496.

By drilling further the news is worse. New Zealand is losing the elite of our skills. Last year we lost 774 Health Professionals; 1,928 Specialist Managers and 1,220 Business Professionals.

For the first time the country is also losing slightly older successful people who have their own companies. It is not just the Lion Nathans that are crossing the Tasman, hundreds of successful small businesses have relocated.

Commentators are concentrating on who we are losing. ACT has examined who the coalition is admitting.

I am picking my words with care. Every time you comment on an issue with a racial dimension in this country, the coalition and its supporters shout racist.

The government tells us that we are bringing in skilled migrants.

But are we? When my taxi driver tells me that he is a lawyer from Belgrade how did his migration upskill New Zealand?

The New Zealand courts will never recognise his qualifications.

It is true that amongst the new immigrants there are doctors with degrees from excellent Universities that are not recognised. This is a problem we can overcome by more sensible qualification recognition. But the hard facts are many of the so called professional qualifications are not up to New Zealand standards. There are foreign doctors here whose qualifications are not up to standard and will never be allowed to practice medicine.

So why were these people even allowed to migrate to this country? The situation becomes a personal tragedy for them. Nearly one thousand foreign doctors have ended up at some time on social welfare.

It is a social problem for our country. To recognise the qualifications, would be to dumb down New Zealand.

But the facts get worse.

When you drill into the recent migration figures the proportion of new immigrants with no qualifications at all has sky rocketed.

Under this Labour Alliance coalition 48,312 new immigrants with no skills and no occupational qualifications were granted permanent residence in the year to August. These are the latest figures available.

In 1999, only 42,795 non-skilled immigrants arrived.

An increase of 5,517 is very significant.

If you look closely at the figures you will see that in the year to August the government let 1,141 Housekeepers, 345 Labourers, 218 Motor Vehicle Drivers, 80 Freight handlers, 22 Doorkeepers, 2 Street Vendors, 1 Refuse Collector and 7,435 people who could not even decide what they did, into New Zealand.

Already, according to our Education Department adult literacy survey, nearly half of New Zealand’s workforce already have literacy levels below minimum levels to cope with the work that they do. Why are we adding to this problem? Is this a policy likely to close any kind of gaps?

ACT asks the question – what right does the government have to decide to let in 48,312 immigrants with no skills. They have not raised the matter in Parliament or put out a single press statement regarding this policy shift. Why is the public not consulted?

Is it possible that the situation is like dawn raids and Lianne Dalziel does not know what is happening? If the Minister does not know who she is letting into the country it is an outrageous degree of negligence.

Alternatively it could be a deliberate decision of the coalition government to lower the standards needed to migrate to this country. To do this without debate is scandalous.

The quality of decision-making in immigration policy has been shockingly low for some time.

The Hansard record will show that I publicly warned National as far back as 1992 that the Immigration Department’s decision to recognise qualifications that do not meet New Zealand’s qualification standards was a recipe for social distress. It has been.

The decision to ignore the nationality of migrants is politically correct but socially and economically dangerous nonsense.

The result has been predictable – a rise in the need to direct precious education resources to teaching English as a second language.

There has been a second consequence. The rise of migrants using New Zealand as a backdoor entry to Australia. The Australians rightly complain, but so should we.

Immigrants from some countries have virtually all left New Zealand shores after three years. But we continue to admit these nationals even though it is well known that they intend to use our country as a springboard to Australia.

If Australia does tighten New Zealand’s free right of entry to Australia, our Government will be partly to blame.

ACT is not in the Winston Peter’s Party of immigrant bashing. Migration has brought many benefits.

What ACT is saying is more complex, as the truth usually is.

We need to debate immigration. It’s not simply a matter of numerical targets as Lianne Dalziel and the government would have us believe. There is nothing magical about the target of 40,000 immigrants.

We need to decide who we want to invite to come to New Zealand. ACT says that the average qualification of immigrants should be higher than the average qualification of New Zealanders. Otherwise we are dumbing down New Zealand.

The test must be higher. The average qualification of immigrants must not only be higher than the New Zealand average, it should be higher than the average qualification of the New Zealanders who are leaving. That’s a hard test. How do we do it?

The answer is simple. The very best immigrants are New Zealanders, the people who this nation raised, educated and trained.

New Zealanders who return from their OE are amongst the nation’s top achievers.

Richard Poole, in his now famous newspaper advertisement, has told us how to attract that generation –

“New Zealand must stop sliding backwards. Our leaders need to set an environment that inspires our young people to remain and attracts back those who have left. We must change those things that are discouraging investment, hard work and job creation abroad.”

The letter from John M Carr, a Kiwi in America who also paid for a full-page ad, sets it all out.

“You can lobby government for policy changes that make the country more accessible to investment capital and innovation and retain the countries most valuable asset – its talent. With a tax rate of 39 per cent… is there any incentive for young talented new Zealanders to hang around?”

Ireland, a country not dissimilar to New Zealand, has adopted their prescription and boomed.

For much of history, Ireland’s greatest export was people. Generations of Irish men and woman left the Emerald Isle never to return. Even New Zealand benefited from this trend.

But in the last decade Ireland’s sons and daughters have been returning in their thousands, and their youth would not dream of leaving. In fact returning ex-pats have dominated Irish immigration statistics for the last six years!

What has fashioned this success? Common-sense.

Ireland’s leaders realised that a small, heavily regulated, low paid economy in a global market would never be an attractive option. Sound familiar? Wisely Ireland lowered its corporate tax rate to 10 per cent and created a business environment where talent is valued and skill rewarded.

The result? Unemployment has plummeted, the economy is booming and real wages have risen every year since 1988.

By 2005 Ireland will be the 3rd richest country in Europe.

If this report sounds like ACT’s prescription, it’s because it is!

ACT’s policies will bring our young people home – that’s why we must succeed – the future of our country depends upon it.

ACT will campaign on a programme to end the dumbing down of New Zealand.

ACT is campaigning to reverse the migration of skill and talent.

To succeed in the global market, to have a future, we must make New Zealand a country our young people do not want to leave, and those who have left, want to return to.

ACT is the future hope of this nation.


For more information visit ACT online at or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at

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