What Are The Politicians Promising About Migration This Election

July 22, 2014
Iain MacLeod

It is two weeks out from our three yearly national elections and about this time I get plenty of emails from people asking if New Zealand is going to shut its doors to immigrants.

The short answer is no one is talking about doing so.

We have the three biggest parties – National, Labour and Greens – one of which will be the dominant party (almost certainly National) in the next Parliament pretty much promising the status quo.

The Labour Party, a traditional home for many migrant voters, has strangely made a number of negative remarks about immigration I would not usually associate with them.

They have for example indicated a ban on non-residents and citizens buying residential property here.

Notwithstanding my day job I don’t have any real problem with this. Given non-resident offshore speculators are to some extent pushing up house values – particularly in Auckland (we can debate to what extent but the impact is real) – it makes sense to me for our Government to fall into line with many other OECD countries. Our situation is made worse because we have no substantial capital gains tax here so property speculators (so long as they don’t make a living out of it) do not pay tax on any gains. Limiting their impact so my children might be better able to afford a home in their own town is not a bad thing.

The Labour Party is talking about a partial Capital Gains Tax (most New Zealanders don’t seem to realise we already we have one) but there are so many exemptions the policy is a joke. With their showing in the polls in the mid 20% and falling it is unlikely their half thought through CGT policy will see the light of day. I do hope the next Government does do something about offshore investors speculating in our residential market or taxing them hard if they wish to.

We have one other minor party, New Zealand First, promising – as they do every three years (yawn) – to ‘slash migration numbers’. They have been a minor support Parliament twice in the past 15 years and immigration numbers were not touched at all.

So readers can rest assured that even though on current polling New Zealand First will hold the balance of power (they are polling around 5% which is one of the thresholds for entering Parliament) the fact that 95% of New Zealanders will not have voted for them or anything they stand for limits their ability to get many of their more controversial policies on the legislative agenda.

So they can (and do) campaign on whatever platform they wish but once in their tail cannot wag the dog.

The only other minor party that looks like possibly reaching the threshold, The Conservative Party, has said they want to cut numbers but like NZ First, they won’t get very far with that either.

On current polling and after three weeks of the ruling party, National, being under the media hammer for what in New Zealand is called ‘Dirty Tricks’ but everywhere else would be laughed off as a Sunday School political picnic, they continue to poll above 50%.

This is significant given that at this stage of recent election races few parties have polled that high and if on polling day they get 50% of the vote they won’t have to seek support from any minor party.

Interestingly however even when they don’t really need them, the National Party, who have now been in power for 6 years, does like to bring into its fold two or three minor parties who at the very least agree to offer their vote on confidence and supply . There is no doubt this is a good tactic as it provides stability under a system that could breed instability – smaller parties promising not to vote ‘no confidence’ in the Government and promising to vote for the annual Government budget is a very sensible brand of politics. They can disagree and negotiate over the less important issues, but the big ticket items are sacrosanct and a minor party must vote to pass the Government’s budget and not vote ‘no confidence’ in it.

It is interesting that increasingly, especially in Auckland, the parties are out there talking to migrant groups.

Although the main stream media are making big of the fact that migrants could heavily influence Government make up in this country given 42% of Aucklanders and 20% of all New Zealanders are immigrants, in my view they overstate the facts.

While it is true that 20% of New Zealanders were not born here and a large chunk of we Aucklanders weren’t, around half are children under the voting age of 18 or were when they arrived and either cannot yet vote or have grown up and become ‘Kiwi’ in terms of their beliefs and aspirations. They are just like me and my sons – both of whom are now old enough to vote – when they get to the ballot box. They might look different but they think the same as the rest of us – or no less diversely as the rest of us might be a better way of putting it.

It is true that their parents might be fertile ground for political parties but I doubt there is huge numbers of votes in there just because they are migrants for one party over another.

It is equally true that research has shown that the first generation of potential voters tend to shy off politics but their children do not – feeling more comfortable with the political process than their parents who by and large just put their heads down and get on with building new lives.

So things might start to change with migrant offspring getting involved in politics but I doubt at any greater rate and therefore without any greater impact than those whose families have been here for generation.

A final point on the election and that is that New Zealand is one of the few countries that allow people who are not citizens to vote which is to my mind another example of our advanced sense of fairness and democracy. One only has to hold a resident visa and have been here for 12 months to vote in local and national elections.

Gotta love the place.

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