Q+A: Winston Peters
Q+A: Winston Peters interviewed by Jessica Mutch
‘Tinkering around the edges’ - Winston Peters on government changes to immigration
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters who has long campaigned for controls on immigration told Q+A that he doesn’t see the government’s changes to immigration this week as a victory.
‘No, I don’t really, because the consequences and cost for this country is massive, and they’ll be here for many many years. So it’s not a victory to see them do a bit of tinkering around the edges. They’ve been in absolute denial. They have misled the country grossly.
Well, if they did something sound and substantial, I would agree with them..’
When asked about the surplus, Mr Peters told Q+A, ‘the state of surplus is a massive fraud on the New Zealand people’
‘Well, nearly every district health board is in serious debt, is in trouble, so it’s all this underfunding. Educators are in trouble. Tertiary institutions are hard up against it. And the infrastructure of this country, the roading in Auckland and all the other plans that have to be put together, every one of them is massively underfunded..
So I’m saying it’s a mirage. The problem with our economy, and here’s the compelling proof which brings this question of the surplus into line with your question on immigration, our GDP per person is going down, not up.’
Please find attached the full transcript and you can watch the interview here
Q + A
Interviewed by JESSICA MUTCH
JESSICA After years of
record migration levels, the government this week announced
changes that will reduce the number of people moving to New
Zealand. It will raise the number of points needed under the
skilled migrant category, and it will place a temporary ban
on applications under the parent category, which allows
parents to join children who have New Zealand residence. In
all, there'll be 5000 fewer migrants over two years
according to government estimates. New Zealand First leader
Winston Peters has long campaigned for controls on
immigration, so I asked him did he see this as a
WINSTON No, I don’t really, because the consequences and cost for this country is massive, and they’ll be here for many many years. So it’s not a victory to see them do a bit of tinkering around the edges. They’ve been in absolute denial. They have misled the country grossly. They have given all sorts of assurances that what we are saying is not true, and now they’re having to admit it. But the cost that’s coming will be years in terms of housing, infrastructure, hospital funding, the DHBs and every other thing that you can look at where cost is concerned is now for the future account of the New Zealand taxpayer.
JESSICA Even though you call this tinkering, do you feel somewhat vindicated? This has been something that’s been close to your heart for a long time.
WINSTON Well, if they did something sound and substantial, I would agree with them, but take, for example, parental reunion. They’ve said it’s suspended now until 2018. Well, they’ve gotten almost 2500 applications. That’s why it’s suspended, sitting parked up now. When it comes to the issue of the skills category, nearly one in two are coming in without skills. They’re here now. And then when you come to, for example, the changes on the student visas, well, you remember what happened. Students were coming in for export education, then they said, ‘You can work in our economy.’ It’s no longer export education when they say that. And then they said because we weren’t competing with the rest of the world’s best education institutions, ‘Oh, we’ll give you a pathway to residency.’ You see how it’s perverted it? And then a lot of people in the export education business are actually from abroad in this country exploiting their own people, and the fraud is massive. Now, when we produced all that information, this government met us in Parliament and in the media day after day, saying that this wasn’t true.
JESSICA Do you think it’s political, then? Do you think they’ve seen this gap and seen how popular your policy is, I guess, and they’re trying to steal your thunder? Is that how it feels to you?
WINSTON Well, it may be that, but what really concerns my party is that however frivolously they might act now, still the massive cost to address this issue is to the New Zealand taxpayer, and the demand is, as you know, in housing is massive. Look at the gridlock in Auckland — two and a half, two and three-quarter hours morning and night now.
JESSICA Do you think that’s purely because of immigration? Do you think that’s to blame?
WINSTON Well, if you’re bringing in 70,000 net a year — that’s net and the city of New Plymouth — to Auckland a year and 40,000 cars new on the roads of Auckland every year, I mean, who here is dreaming that after the local government election that they’re going to fix anything? You get my point.
JESSICA Is that scaremongering a little bit, though, to blame the housing crisis, to blame Auckland’s transport situation on migrants?
WINSTON No, I’m not blaming them on migrants. I’m saying we’re already got a crisis — a domestic one. But just to make sure we can’t get on top of it, we’re loading up all this artificial demand. Look, get one thing clear. We don’t blame people for trying to make a new life in our country, but we do blame central government for not having a focused immigration policy and doing its best and what’s best for the New Zealand taxpayer as their number one focus and for the economy. When one out of two is unskilled and you’ve been talking about a skills category, as a government you’re just involved in, to put it bluntly, lying.
JESSICA Because let’s talk about the parents that have been very much a focus this week. People who have immigrated here, as you say, want to create a better life for themselves. They want their parents to come in. On a personal level, can you see how that would make them feel more settled here in New Zealand?
WINSTON Well, of course I can. I mean, we’ve got a greater sense of humanity than many other political party has, and we speak that way. But if I go to America to get a green card, that’s just me. If I go to the UK, that’s just me. I go to France, it’s just me. I can’t bring Uncle Tom Cobley and all, and we can’t afford it. But here’s the point — 31% who got into the parental reunion category, that is sponsored their parents, have shot through, and—
JESSICA So do we need to work on that aspect, then? Do we need to have more structures in place?
WINSTON Well, in 2012, 2013, we said to this government, ‘Look, you’re being cheated too. You’re being lied to.’ They just denied it. Then they said, ‘Well, we’ll now bring in a new asset— money category with these older people.’ Did they police it? No. So what they engaged themselves in was a complicated exercise of denial and deception, and it’s all exposed now. Do we feel good about it? No, I don’t. I despair as to what’s happened to this country, because in so many areas, it makes the job of recovery so much harder now.
JESSICA You’ve talked about that 70,000 net migration. You’ve come on the show before and said you’d like to cap it at around that 15,000 mark.
JESSICA 10,000 to 15,000 was the figure. How would you go about doing that?
WINSTON Well, you bring in people — you have the number one principle, which we’ve always had and which every smart economy has — bring in people that your economy needs, not who needs your economy.
JESSICA So would you have a points system that was higher, or how would you tweak it?
WINSTON It would be a skills points system. It would be English language-based as well. You’ve got so many people here after 15 years can’t speak a word of English. They’re getting driver’s licences. I don’t know how they’re doing it, but I suspect what’s going on there. But you do that, and then you make sure that there is a job for them. You know, I’ll give you a good example. We have tremendous animal husbandry in this country, and we should have a leather industry. Have we ever targeted to bring in leather industry specialists to make ourselves one of the fashion industry capitals of the world? We’ve never even tried.
JESSICA Do we need migrants in this country, do you think?
WINSTON It’s one of our founding principles that this country will always need to fill the skills and gaps in science, education, universities and what have you.
JESSICA And do we need those foreign workers?
WINSTON Well, whilst we’ll always need a certain degree to fill those gaps, immigration should never be used as an excuse for failing to train, educate and employ your own New Zealanders first.
JESSICA Is 15,000 going to be enough, though, to fill those gaps? I mean, you yourself have been talking a lot about rural areas over the last few months, and one of the areas, in horticulture, they’re crying out for workers. How would you target areas so immigrants went to places like that where they’re needed?
WINSTON Look, I was the MP in the Bay of Plenty for a long time and the kiwifruit industry was burgeoning back then. Guess who picked all the kiwifruit back then? Young and older people in the Bay of Plenty.
JESSICA Do you think that could happen now?
WINSTON But, no, they were doing it back then. Why are they not doing it now? And I tell you why, because you see massive fraud coming in by way work gangs from offshore, companies set up, they hire under the table and not paying—
JESSICA But, see, it’s interesting—
WINSTON No, no, let me tell you what happens. Not paying first-world wages, at the end of the season, they liquidate the company, don’t pay any tax, and then the guy shoots through. Second year, back, same group, same guy, same operation, new company, over and over again.
JESSICA A few weeks ago, though, I had on the show as well some workers who employed foreign workers and New Zealand workers, and they said the New Zealand workers didn’t turn up to work and often weren’t in a fit state to work. What do you think about that? Don’t we need these migrant workers who are hungry for the work?
WINSTON No, isn’t it astonishing? That’s the Bill English argument, that’s the John Key argument, saying that New Zealanders are useless. How come the highest income people in Australia bar all immigration in Australia are New Zealanders? How come we’re so valued in London, by so many economies and so many businesses there? Why? Because we muck in and we know how to get along with people. And so on the one hand we’ve got a tremendous New Zealand workforce that used to be able to, Mum and Dad and the kids, be four or five adult workers in New Zealand.
JESSICA What’s changed, then, do you think?
WINSTON What’s changing is they’re not getting paid any more properly.
JESSICA Do you think that’s the problem?
WINSTON That’s the problem. Instead of giving farmers a decent tax break and employers a decent tax break to export and to pay their workers first-world wages, we’re getting by with this new ideology — mass immigration, drive down wages, and we’ll somehow advantage New Zealand. Now, Lee Kuan knew specifically when he began the economic experiment in Singapore, said, ‘High wages is what’s going to take me there, not low wages.’
JESSICA In terms of the ageing population in New Zealand, we do have an ageing population. Don’t we need those immigrants to come in to fill in the workforce to be able to support this ageing population?
WINSTON I’m so glad you raised that.
JESSICA I’m sure you are.
WINSTON I’m so glad you raised that, because you’d think that, wouldn’t you? You would think a targeted immigration programme would be bringing the average age down. Uh-uh. The two high categories are the very young — preschool, I mean pre working in the workforce — and guess what, those that are 55, 60 and older — are the two highest categories coming in. And 87,000 have come here in the last 15 years, got immediately medical benefits and within 10 years — just 10 years — whether they paid any tax or not, full super. What economy in the world does that, and how can we afford it? Now, if you had a targeted immigration policy, and that’s the absolute evidence you’ve given in your question, that it’s not targeted, instead of driving the average age down, it’s driving it up.
JESSICA One of the things I also wanted to talk to you about was an interesting idea I was reading about of taking government departments and putting them into the regions.
JESSICA Why do you think that’s a good idea, and what departments do you think that could work for?
WINSTON Well, you know, why has the Department of Conservation got massive investment in Wellington?
JESSICA Where do you think it could go to? Give me an example
WINSTON Out in the provinces where conservation’s required.
JESSICA So what’s an example?
WINSTON There’s one. Forestry is another one. For example, the education department has computerised sort of skills which could be in any provincial city in this country. You’ve got IRD, which used to be— it should be split far more widely, in this computerised age, right around the country. And you go to Norway, one of the world’s great economies, Oslo has barely driven because when it comes to the thing that we’re talking about, they are saying, ‘No, you’re not coming to Oslo. Put it somewhere around Norway.’
JESSICA Because one of the interesting examples, I guess, is the BBC. They’ve moved it from London to Manchester. Do you think that might work for TVNZ as well?
WINSTON Well, where’s Fox News in America? Is it in New York? No. Is it in Washington? No.
JESSICA Do you think that would be a good example of where that could happen?
WINSTON Well, the way this government and former governments have behaved in recent years, it’s as though they’d never heard of computerisation. When the very utility that arrived in our economy to help us do that happened, no, they kept on centralising. Now we want the provinces who pay most of the taxes anyway, who create the great export wealth of New Zealand to get a fair go.
JESSICA Another topic that’s been dominating this week has been the surplus, which National have been very keen to talk about. How do you think that that money should be spent? Is it time for a tax cut?
WINSTON Well, the state of surplus is a massive fraud on the New Zealand people, and I cannot believe the number of journalists who are repeating it. I’ll tell you, for example—
JESSICA You don’t believe that number or that figure?
WINSTON Of course I don’t believe that number, because the police force numbers were capped in 2010 and we’ve gone down in police numbers per capita, not up.
JESSICA But you don’t believe in the surplus numbers?
WINSTON No, I don’t.
JESSICA That’s the question.
WINSTON No, I don’t, because what Mr Key and others have promised they’ve not delivered on. Take, for example, health funding. They keep on using these billion-dollar figures, but—
JESSICA So is that where you’d want to spend it?
WINSTON Well, nearly every district health board is in serious debt, is in trouble, so it’s all this underfunding. Educators are in trouble. Tertiary institutions are hard up against it. And the infrastructure of this country, the roading in Auckland and all the other plans that have to be put together, every one of them is massively underfunded and you’ve got a guy here that he reminds me of the Minister of Finance way back — I wasn’t alive at that time — in the Great Depression. He was balancing the books, yes, certainly, but the country was going to hell in a handbasket, and there he is boasting, ‘I’ve got a $1.8 billion surplus.’ And I say to him, ‘How many police are you short? How many doctors are you short? How many DHBs are all in debt?’ and he’s not interested in answering.
JESSICA So you’d divvy those up, and that’s how you’d spend it if you were in charge and had influence in the decision?
WINSTON So I’m saying it’s a mirage. The problem with our economy, and here’s the compelling proof which brings this question of the surplus into line with your question on immigration, our GDP per person is going down, not up. We’ve taken on an extra 470,000 people, and whilst the GDP has grown some, it hasn’t grown commensurate with that increase. Now, here’s the nub. If we but double our GDP by 2050, 34 years’ time, we will have the same cost structure as we’ve got now if we don’t change the population mix. But if you mass immigrate into this country, we’re just going to be on a slide to a great and growing disaster.