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The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews James Shaw

On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews James Shaw
Youtube clips from the show are available here.
The Green Party says it wants overall net immigration, including New Zealanders leaving the country or returning home, to be equal to 1% of the population. This year that would have meant about 17-20,000 net foreign immigrants compared with 70,000 who did come in under current rules.
Shaw says he’s spoken with the Labour Party about the Greens’ numbers and they “seem comfortable with the idea” but won’t say whether Labour agrees with the numbers.
Shaw says the government is “barking up the wrong tree by putting the pressure on the family category”, and should instead focus on huge numbers of students coming into New Zealand on temporary work visas, because they are putting pressure on housing and on transport infrastructure.

Lisa Owen: Now, the Labour Party has long criticised government policy and called for immigration to be slashed. Now the Greens have come up with their take on the numbers. Green Party co-leader James Shaw joins me now. Good morning.
James Shaw: Good morning, Lisa.
Start by outlining what your plan’s going to be around immigration.
Well, we think that the country needs a more sustainable immigration policy, so what we would do is to set a variable approvals target based on a percentage of the overall population, and so that would be at about 1% of the population, which is historically how fast New Zealand’s population has grown. So what we would do is we’d say, well, if you look at a period like at the moment, when you’ve got lots of Kiwis coming home and not many leaving, then the number of approvals would be much lower, and in other years it would be much higher.
So, for 1% population growth, you’re saying- on the numbers that we have, that’s a total number of about 45,000—
That’s right.
…but only part of them would be immigrants, because some of them would be returning Kiwis.
Yeah, that’s right.
So how many in a year like this year would be immigrants?
Well, this year you’d be looking at about 17-20,000 net migrants to New Zealand. In another year—
Compared to?
Compared to 70,000. So at the moment, you’ve got—immigration has actually boosted our population by 1.5%, so immigration is growing much faster than it has in previous years, and that’s why you’re getting the strain on house prices and congestion.
Well, I just want to unpack this a little bit. So that’s 17-odd thousand that you would be talking about in a year like this one. Does that include everyone – permanent residents, student visas, work visas and people bringing their parents? That 17,000 is the whole lot?
That’s right, that’s the top line net migration figure that you’re talking about.
And if that’s going to go up and down depending on how many Kiwis are coming home, the thing is you can’t control that. You can’t control how many Kiwis are coming home, so you could be turning the tap way down on immigration.
And way up. So the whole idea here is to try and smooth out the peaks and troughs. If you look at government policy, what they do is they try and say, well, there should be about 45-55,000 a year, but that sits on top of movements in the general population, which is why you have these big peaks and troughs. And that’s why people are getting concerned about it this year – because it’s having an outsize impact on house prices, on infrastructure and on wages, actually.
But the thing about this is that you’re a party that has consistently said that you support immigration. That is a massive drop from 70,000 net down to 17,000 for a party that says it supports immigration.
Well, in other years, you’d be looking at 30,000 coming in, which is—
Still, that’s half the current numbers.
Well, that’s half of what it is at current numbers. So immigration is really important to New Zealand. We really believe in a diverse society. We believe in the contribution that migrants make. But you’ve also got to cater for changes in infrastructure, and because our population has historically grown at about 1%, the country is set up to absorb that. You suddenly double that number and you’ve got a problem like we’ve got at the moment where you actually can’t meet the demand for housing and infrastructure. That’s why people are getting concerned right now.
But as Bill English would say, you also get a benefit for that, and if you look at our economic growth numbers, half of that is made up by immigration. Your plan would put the handbrake on our economic growth.
You’d need to manage it down slowly, so we wouldn’t say that next year it should suddenly drop by that amount. What you want is to sort of smooth it down so that we get back to the kind of sustainable population growth that we’ve had over the past few decades. So for example, in the time that I’ve been alive, our population has gone up by about half. By the time I die – benign assumption – it will have doubled. It doubles about every 70 years. At the moment it’s doubling every 35 years, and that’s putting a lot of strain on infrastructure and housing. That’s where the concern comes from.
But you could potentially crash house prices. You could carve off half our economic growth.
Not if you smooth it down. Changes in migration flows to the equivalent of 1% of population actually push up house prices by about 6-12%, so it’s significant and noticeable, but it’s not 100%. It’s not a huge outside number. If you smooth that number down, you’re gonna put less pressure on house prices the way that we’ve seen over the course of the last sort of 12-24 months.
You’ve got a memorandum of understanding. What does Labour think of your plan?
Well, we’ve had a bit of a chat to them about it, and they seem comfortable with the idea.
Comfortable? They agree with your numbers?
You’d have to ask them.
Okay. The other thing is that a lot of work visas and students coming here to work – they’re all tied to bilateral agreements. I mean, can you tell Canadians, Brits and Americans, ‘You can’t come here anymore in the same numbers on those work visas,’? Because we’re all going there to work.
Well, this is the thing about having a net number. So if Kiwis are leaving and Canadians and Brazilians and so on are coming, then it nets out. So that’s—
But you’re still lowering overall numbers, though.
You’re still lowering the net number. That’s correct.
But that’s where all the concern is at the moment because of the huge impact that the current bubble is having on house prices and on transport and so on. The country’s got a choice – are we comfortable with those kind of peaks and troughs where it has a significant economic drag, where you’ve got these huge bubbles in house prices, where—
But could you be the party that kills the great Kiwi OE if they turn around and do the same thing to us?
Look, that’s not going to happen. The whole point is that you net it out, so the numbers of Kiwis leaving would be roughly equivalent to the numbers that are coming in. If you take student visas, for example, we think that the government is actually barking up the wrong tree by putting the pressure on the family category, but there’s huge numbers of students that are coming into New Zealand on temporary work visas and that’s actually where a lot of the pressure is coming from, especially on housing and on transport infrastructure.
Well, we’ll watch that space. The minister said that will be a year away. Thanks very much for joining us, James Shaw.
Thanks for having me.
Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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