Maiden speech – Golriz Ghahraman

A big maiden speech from Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, with strong references to immigration and patriotism and refugees.

She talks of hardships involving war that most of us who have always lived in New Zealand have very fortunately not had to experience or suffer.

My parents.

Both strong, Iranian feminists. You lost everything. You lost your friends, your family, your professions and your language, because you weren’t willing to raise a little girl in oppression.

Thank you.

Closing comments:

Mr Speaker.

I stand here as a child of revolutionaries, as a child asylum seeker, as a international human rights lawyer, as an activist, and as a Green, and my standing here proves New Zealand is a place where a nine-year-old asylum seeker, a refugee, a girl from the Middle East can grow up to one day enter Parliament.

It proves the strength and the goodness of New Zealand’s values.

We all should be grateful and proud that Golriz can become an MP in New Zealand, and speak openly and passionately about her past and about her passion to bring about positive change.

Full draft transcript:


Mr Speaker, I congratulate you, and I look forward to your guidance in this House. I acknowledge also that we stand on land that was neve ceded, so I have acknowledged tangata whenua.

I begin by acknowledging what a breathtaking honour it is to sit among this Green caucus. It’s a dream. I also acknowledge those who’ve sat among you before now, in particular Catherine Delahunty and Keith Locke—you spoke to injustice wherever it happened, and, to someone like me, that meant a lot. Mojo Mathers, you taught me and us all that we are far more than our labels. And Metiria Turei, for baring your scars to highlight the pain of others, I thank you.

But today I also want to acknowledge those who tell me every day that I don’t belong here, that I should go home where I came from, that I should have been left to die, or that I have no right to criticise any politician in the country or take part in public life, because this isn’t my home. Some of them call for rifles to be loaded—it gets frightening.

I’m numb to it because that actually is the reality for those of us in this country from minority backgrounds if we do stand up and become visible. I want it noted that it’s also the consequence every time someone in this House scapegoats migrants, every time a TV presenter is allowed to ask the Prime Minister when our Governor General is going to look like a Kiwi and sound like a Kiwi and that Prime Minister just laughs, every time we call refugees “the leftovers from terrorist nations” for our political gain. We feel it on the streets; we can’t shed our skin.

Patriotism that seeks to quash dissent and divide us is archaic. It’s dangerous for our democracy. We can’t tolerate that. It’s antithetical to our culture. I love this country, but a love of this country—patriotism—means expecting the very best for her. It means fighting for the country we know is possible. So I criticise leaders who fall short, I protest, and I fight for equality and justice, because that is what loves looks like in public—that’s Dr Cornel West; that’s not me. So today I stand here proud and determined because today is about democracy and equality—values that New Zealand embodies, stands up for so boldly.

I am a child of revolutionaries. My parents faced tanks for democracy, at gunpoint fought for human rights. They faced torture to take back their country’s resource from imperialists, from dictators, and from corrupt corporate interests and put it back in the hands of the people. The Iranian revolution was one of the biggest popular revolutions in modern history. Everyone was out on the street—students, communists, socialists, and Islamists—fighting against inequality.

But their revolution was hijacked, and ultimately my life was shaped by one of the most repressive regimes in modern history. Everyone knew someone that disappeared into a torture chamber for speaking out; everyone knew a woman flogged for disregarding Islamic dress—and that wasn’t our culture, even for those of us who were Muslim. Everyone feared their phones being tapped; that was my childhood.

But it was also just the backdrop to a bloody eight year war we fought against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. I remember the bombs and the sirens, running to a basement and just waiting, but mostly I remember kids my age who stopped talking from the shell shock. I still don’t know what happened to them. Then scarcity set in, because America was on Saddam’s side and we were sanctioned. We had to use coupons to buy food. Years later, we realised that the West had backed both sides of that war—sold weapons to both sides.

That is what refugees are made of.

I feel a kinship with first nations people, with tangata whenua, because we too have been alienated from our land and our resources by imperialism—by wars that we did not profit from. We share the same degradation and prejudice; I want us to work closer together. Migrants, refugees, Pasifika people, tangata whenua—we have far more that unites us than that which divides us. I want Te Tiriti o Waitangi to be a living constitutional document in this country, leading policy, even on immigration.

My mum was a child psychologist, but she never worked because she didn’t believe in taking religious exams, especially in a mental health field. My dad was an agricultural engineer who worked on research trying to extract energy from plant sources—Green to the core. So let’s remember that our values exist in all cultures. The Middle East, just like the West, has fierce feminism, environmentalism, Government selling us off to multinationals, and—yes—religious fundamentalism. I want us to amplify the voices in all cultures who speak of democracy and equality above those who would silence them.

When that repression got too scary, my family and I fled. We landed in Auckland Airport and the fear was palpable. I can still feel it now. I was nine years old. We didn’t know what would happen if we were sent back, but we weren’t; we were welcomed here. That warm welcome is my first memory of my homeland. New Zealand recognised our rights and our humanity; that’s what that was, though I didn’t know it then. My second memory is that this country was so green. Those two vivid first impressions are going to lead my work in this House.

I became a lawyer—I never intended to do that, but I wanted to make human rights enforceable. The criminal justice system leads on human rights in our system. The most frightening thing that I’ve seen in about 15 years of being a lawyer all over the world is the sight of a 13-year-old child sitting behind a very large table awaiting his trial for murder at the Auckland High Court. I was part of his defence team. He’d thrown a rock over an overbridge, tragically taking another young life. He was tried as an adult because our system requires it. He suffered from mental illness, as do most people that come through our justice system. He was brown. He was from South Auckland. His family was so poor that they shifted houses every so often just so that they could have electricity for a while. He didn’t have a lot of schooling, because of that, and his Child Youth and Family file was the stuff of nightmares. Our most vulnerable.

The front lines of our justice system is where I learnt about unchecked prejudice. That’s what turned me into a human rights lawyer, and I focused on children’s rights. But it was living in Africa, working on genocide trials for the UN, where I learnt how prejudice turns to atrocity. It starts with dehumanising language in the media. It starts by politicians scapegoating groups, as groups, for social ills—I think that every time I see it happen here. I saw it in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, and when I prosecuted the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia—holding politicians and armies to account for abusing their power, and giving voice to women and minorities, because we are always most viciously attacked by abusers. These experiences have instilled in me a commitment to human rights that I first got as someone who has seen the world without them.

Human rights are universal. We don’t have fewer rights because of our religion, because of where we were born, or because of who we love. We don’t have fewer rights because we had our children out of wedlock, or because we’ve been charged with a crime. We don’t have human rights because we are good, but because we are human—there is no such thing as the deserving poor or the good refugee.

Human rights are indivisible. We have a bundle of rights. We can’t realise one without the others—you can’t say we have a democracy or free speech unless we also have the right to education, and we don’t have the right to education unless the kids we are teaching have food and homes. For too long, for about 10 years now in New Zealand, our very democracy has been undermined because too many of our rights—our economic, our social, and our cultural rights—have been breached. I want to entrench those.

Finally—and of most interest to this House—human rights are enforceable against Governments. These are our obligations. This our mandate to govern. We can’t privatise them away. They are not charity—people don’t have to beg.

I want New Zealand to get back to a culture of expecting this from us, and none of that is inseparable from the environment. Protection of people’s rights and nature’s rights are intrinsically linked. Just ask the people of the Pacific—our neighbours—whose homelands are being drowned out because of waste pollution consumption that they have not participated in or benefited from.

One of the greatest threats to both human and nature’s rights right now is subjugation of our democracy to corporate interests. A rampant market on a finite planet cannot exist. New Zealand must lead by example on this, as we have done before. We’ve stood up against status quo interests on the world stage, and I want us to be that righteous little nation again.

I never intended to run as the first ever refugee MP, but I quickly realised that my face and my story meant so much to so many, so my fear of tokenism dissipated. I had such an outpouring of support from all over New Zealand and the world—even Trump’s America—and I remembered getting notes and emails from my female interns, mostly of minority background, back in the UN, telling me what it meant to them to have someone like them forging that path. Some of them are carrying that mantle right now. I realised then that it was important for that process to have a former victim of governance by repression and mass murder stand up in those courtrooms, which are normally dominated by Western men.

So this is a victory for a nine-year-old asylum seeker. But it’s also a victory for everyone who has ever felt out of place, who has been excluded, or who has been told that she has limits to her dreams.

For getting me here, I thank the voters. You’ve humbled me for ever. You voted for diversity and fairness and nature this election when you voted Green.

I thank our Green activists and our staff, especially our Auckland staff. You worked harder and harder as things got harder this election. You will inspire me for ever. To my campaign team—especially Ron and Daniel, who are up there—and my second, political family, the Chalmers clan, I’m so happy you are here. Your support is life affirming to me.

My parents, both strong Iranian feminists—you lost everything. You lost your friends, your family, your professions, and your language because you weren’t willing to raise a little girl in oppression—thank you.

And to maybe the most political person I know, although a very large, loud white boy—my partner. Thank you for stopping me mid-rant—it seems like a lifetime ago now—when I was lamenting the loss of activism in politics and some of my favourite MPs. I was saying, “Who’s going to be the candidate that will stand up to the GCSB? Who’s going to be the candidate who will be the new Keith Locke?”, and you said, “You will be that candidate.”—and I was. We’re both political, we are both adventurers, but you are also patient. I thank you for that, and for love, but mostly courage, on that day and every day.

I stand here as a child of revolutionaries, as a child asylum seeker, as a international human rights lawyer, as an activist, and as a Green, and my standing here proves New Zealand is a place where a nine-year-old asylum seeker, a refugee, a girl from the Middle East can grow up to one day enter Parliament. It proves the strength and the goodness of New Zealand’s values.

[Authorised Te Reo text to be inserted by the Hansard Office.]

Right leaning NZ First voters may be disappointed

Going by comments here, at Kiwiblog and at Whale Oil during the campaign there may be a few right leaners who voted for NZ First who may be more than a little disappointed with their choice.

Most notably Cameron Slater promoted voting for NZ First heavily, thinking they would push National right on selected issues (despite most NZ First policies being far more to the left).

Winston Peters is very experienced at pandering to potential voters on populist issues, knowing that as a smaller party he will never be able to deliver. This looks especially true by the look of the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement.

Not with National

It was common to see people saying they would vote NZ First to reduce National’s clout in a right leaning government.That NZ First decided not to do a deal with National is neither surprising nor good news for right leaning  supporters.

Maori seats referendum

One of Winston’s bottom lines/promises was to have a referendum on the Maori seats to ‘eliminate them’.  This policy was eliminated by Labour, who couldn’t countenance losing their grip on all seven Maori seats..

Immigration

Winston has campaigned for years on drastically lowering immigration numbers, often erroneously and deceitfully describing what we had as ‘mass immigration’. Jacinda Ardern has stated that Labour immigration policy remains intact, that will mean some reduction in numbers but nowhere as drastically as Winston promised.

The UN resolution on Israel

This was an issue pushed hard at Whale Oil but no one else cared about it, but has made it into the coalition agreement:

Record a Cabinet minute regarding the lack of process followed prior to the National-led government’s sponsorship of UNSC2334

This is just a criticism of the process used, of not referring the decision to sponsor the resolution to Cabinet. It does nothing to criticise or oppose the resolution.

Smacking referendum

Family First press release on 28 september: Anti-Smacking Law On Coalition Table

In a speech in March in Northland, leader Winston Peters said; “We are going to repeal the anti-smacking law which doesn’t work and has in fact seen greater violence towards children.” He then further clarified his position in an interview on Newstalk ZB saying that this matter should go to a referendum with New Zealand people who are “far more reliable and trustworthy on these matters, rather than a bunch of temporarily empowered parliamentarians. This position was backed up by senior MP Tracey Martin.

It may or may not have ever got onto the negotiating table, but neither Labour nor Greens would have supported it.

Climate change

All of NZ First, Labour and greens supported much stronger action on climate change, and it was included in both the Labour-Green deal and also the Labour-NZ First agreement:

Introduce a Zero Carbon Act and an independent Climate Commission, based on therecommendations of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

If the Climate Commission determines that agriculture is to be included in the ETS, then upon entry, the free allocation to agriculture will be 95% but with all revenues from this source recycled back into agriculture in order to encourage agricultural innovation,mitigation and additional planting of forestry.

It even allows for agriculture to be included in the ETS.

Anyone thinking that a vote for NZ First would deliver a more right leaning government may now be ruing their judgement. However the outcome was fairly predictable so they shouldn’t be surprised.

On immigration “Labour’s policy remains absolutely unchanged”

One notable point of difference between Labour and and NZ First was on immigration, especially how much to reduce immigrant numbers by.

Incoming Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has indicated very clearly in an interview on The Nation that “Labour’s policy remains absolutely unchanged”.

Lisa Owen: So part of that is also immigration numbers, the number of people coming into the country and demand. And you and your coalition partners are kind of at odds on that when you look at the policies. Winston Peters wants a considerably higher drop in numbers than you have specified, and the Green Party actually withdrew their policy around immigration at one point. So where’s the sweet spot? If Winston Peters wants 10,000 people a year – and we’ve got about 73,000 – and Labour were saying maybe cut it about 30,000, where is the sweet spot?

Jacinda Ardern: The sweet spot is acknowledging that we have pressure on our infrastructure. And I think, actually, that is common ground between all parties that will form this government because there is undoubtedly strain based on the fact that we have had a government that’s entire growth agenda has been based on population growth rather than focusing on making sure that we move to a productive economy.

Lisa Owen: But when your agreement comes about–

Jacinda Ardern: Our view is that it is about the settings. It is about making sure that we are meeting the skills gaps that we have – and we do have them in New Zealand – meeting those skills gaps by making sure that we are undertaking those work tests, by making sure that our export education industry isn’t exploiting people, and by making sure that people on temporary work visas aren’t exploited either. That’s the area we’re focused on, and there’s agreement there.

Lisa Owen: So when the deal comes out and we look at it, will there be a number? Will we look through those papers and there’s a number that you’ve agreed on?

Jacinda Ardern: You’ll see that Labour’s policy remains.

Lisa Owen: In terms of the numbers, not just the contest? Because you’ve always talked about quality of people coming in and raising the quality and skill level, but what about the number coming in? Will there be a number?

Jacinda Ardern: Labour’s policy remains absolutely unchanged. As a result of these negotiations, our policy remains.

Lisa Owen: So no shift in numbers, no shift towards Mr Peters’ 10,000? You’re exactly where you were prior to the election?

Jacinda Ardern: Labour’s policy remains in place.

Lisa Owen: And the numbers of immigrants coming in will be unchanged?

Jacinda Ardern: Will be the same.

Recent and current net immigration is just over 70,000 per year.

Policy comparisons from the campaign:

Labour:

  • Ensure that businesses are able to get genuinely skilled migrants when they need them. This will include introducing an Exceptional Skills Visa for highly skilled or talented people and introducing a KiwiBuild Visa for residential construction firms who train a local when they hire a worker from overseas.
  • Strengthen the Labour Market Test for work visas so they are not being used for jobs Kiwis can do, and make our skills shortage lists more regional so migrants coming in under them can only live and work in areas where there is a genuine skills shortage.
  • Require courses for international students to be high-quality, remove the ability to work for international students in low-level courses except where the work is approved as part of their study, and remove the ability to get a work visa without a job for those who have completed study below university level.
  • In total, these changes are estimated to reduce net migration by 20,000-30,000. Without these changes there would be up to 10,000 more houses needed and up to 20,000 more vehicles on our roads annually.

Details: http://www.labour.org.nz/immigration

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has confirmed she remains committed to their policy, likely to reduce net migration by 20,000 to 30,000 a year. The party says that will be achieved by cutting student visas for tertiary courses considered to be “low value” and susceptible to being used as a back door for immigration.

The party says it will also introduce a stricter labour market test, to ensure employers properly seek to hire Kiwis before recruiting from overseas, and require skilled migrants to stay and work in the region their visa was issued for.

Labour argues it is time to take “a breather” on immigration to allow the country to play catch-up on infrastructure, including roading and housing, and stop wages being kept low.

New Zealand First:

  • Make sure that Kiwi workers are at the front of the job queue.
  • Attract highly skilled migrants by reducing numbers to around 10,000 per annum.
  • Ensure that immigration policy is based on New Zealand’s interests and the main focus is on meeting critical skills gaps.
  • Ensure immigration under ‘family reunion’ is strictly controlled.
  • Increase the residency rules around NZ Superannuation from the current 10 years to 25 years.
  • Increase, the Permanent Residency qualification period from the current two-years.
  • Make sure effective measures are put in place to stop the exploitation of migrant workers with respect to wages, safety and work conditions. In Christchurch and elsewhere there is evidence of exploitation of migrant workers.
  • Develop strategies to encourage the regional dispersion of immigration to places other than Auckland and the main centres.
  • Substantially increase the minimum English requirement.

From http://www.nzfirst.org.nz/immigration

NZ First leader Winston Peters has vowed to drastically reduce net immigration well below what Labour wants, to a net migration level of around 10,000 a year. Unemployed Kiwis will be trained up to take jobs as the tap is turned down, Peters says, and the number of older immigrants limited, with more bonded to the regions.

His message to voters who want a big drop in immigration levels is that Labour can’t be trusted, given they had only recently called for sizeable cuts, and National will continue the “economic treason” of “mass immigration”.

Green:

  • Maintain a sustainable net immigration flow to limit the effects on the environment, society and culture
  • Make it easier for some family members of new migrants apply for residency

https://www.greens.org.nz/page/immigration-policy

On refugees:

  • Progressively increase New Zealand’s refugee quota to 4,000 people per year after six years, and properly fund asylum seeker and refugee services.
  • Establish a programme for church and community groups to sponsor an additional 1,000 refugees per year.
  • Create a new humanitarian visa for people displaced by climate change in the Pacific.

https://www.greens.org.nz/policy/fairer-society/welcoming-more-refugees

Proposed capping migration at 1 per cent of population growth, but later abandoned that policy, with leader James Shaw apologising for focusing on numbers, saying he was “mortified” at accusations by migrant groups that the Greens had pandered to anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Other source: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11907957

 

Examining the Russian media war

A very interesting article by Jim Rutenberg in the New York Times that claims Russian influence in what has become known as fake news, used to promote discord and protest and to interfere in elections in countries around the world.

Examples are given of interference in Germany over immigration, in the UK over Brexit, and in the US election.

RT, Sputnik and Russia’s New Theory of War

How the Kremlin built one of the most powerful information weapons of the 21st century — and why it may be impossible to stop.

…Steltner found the phone calls he received that morning confounding. They came from police officers from towns far outside Berlin, who reported that protests were erupting, seemingly out of nowhere, on their streets. “They are demonstrating — ‘Save our children,’ ‘No attacks from immigrants on our children’ and some things like that,” Steltner told me when I met him in Berlin recently.

The police were calling Steltner because this was ostensibly his office’s fault. The protesters were angry over the Berlin prosecutor’s supposed refusal to indict three Arab migrants who, they said, raped a 13-year-old girl from Berlin’s tight-knit Russian-German community.

Steltner, who would certainly have been informed if such a case had come up for prosecution, had heard nothing of it. He called the Berlin Police Department, which informed him that a 13-year-old Russian-German girl had indeed gone missing a week before. When she resurfaced a day later, she told her parents that three “Southern-looking men” — by which she meant Arab migrants — had yanked her off the street and taken her to a rundown apartment, where they beat and raped her.

But when the police interviewed the girl, whose name was Lisa, she changed her story. She had left home, it turned out, because she had gotten in trouble at school. Afraid of how her parents would react, she went to stay with a 19-year-old male friend. The kidnapping and gang rape, she admitted, never happened.

The allegations were false, but Russian news agencies kept publishing them, promoting protests and discord over immigration in Germany.

Officials in Germany and at NATO headquarters in Brussels view the Lisa case, as it is now known, as an early strike in a new information war Russia is waging against the West. In the months that followed, politicians perceived by the Russian government as hostile to its interests would find themselves caught up in media storms that, in their broad contours, resembled the one that gathered around Merkel.

They often involved conspiracy theories and outright falsehoods — sometimes with a tenuous connection to fact, as in the Lisa case, sometimes with no connection at all — amplified until they broke through into domestic politics. In other cases, they simply helped promote nationalist, far-left or far-right views that put pressure on the political center.

What the efforts had in common was their agents: a loose network of Russian-government-run or -financed media outlets and apparently coordinated social-media accounts.

And this is effective. This is evident in New Zealand where ordinary people, especially those with conspiracy tendencies or with strong views about things like immigration or politics, pick up on and amplify the messages – which is of course one of the aims.

After RT and Sputnik gave platforms to politicians behind the British vote to leave the European Union, like Nigel Farage, a committee of the British Parliament released a report warning that foreign governments may have tried to interfere with the referendum.

Russia and China, the report argued, had an “understanding of mass psychology and of how to exploit individuals” and practiced a kind of cyberwarfare “reaching beyond the digital to influence public opinion.”

I wouldn’t rule out other countries either, like North Korea, from the Middle East – and the US, who are also one of the main targets.

But all of this paled in comparison with the role that Russian information networks are suspected to have played in the American presidential election of 2016.

In early January, two weeks before Donald J. Trump took office, American intelligence officials released a declassified version of a report — prepared jointly by the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Security Agency — titled “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections.” It detailed what an Obama-era Pentagon intelligence official, Michael Vickers, described in an interview in June with NBC News as “the political equivalent of 9/11.”

“Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election,” the authors wrote. “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency.” According to the report, “Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

The intelligence assessment detailed some cloak-and-dagger activities, like the murky web of Russian (if not directly government-affiliated or -financed) hackers who infiltrated voting systems and stole gigabytes’ worth of email and other documents from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.

But most of the assessment concerned machinations that were plainly visible to anyone with a cable subscription or an internet connection: the coordinated activities of the TV and online-media properties and social-media accounts that made up, in the report’s words, “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine.”

The assessment devoted nearly half its pages to a single cable network: RT. The Kremlin started RT — shortened from the original Russia Today — a dozen years ago to improve Russia’s image abroad.

But it is not simple to isolate and combat.

Plenty of RT’s programming, to outward appearances, is not qualitatively different from conventional opinion-infused cable news.

Its fans point to its coverage of political perspectives that aren’t prominent on mainstream networks — voices from the Occupy movement, the libertarian right and third parties like the Green Party. The network has been nominated for four International Emmy Awards and one Daytime Emmy.

This makes RT and Sputnik harder for the West to combat than shadowy hackers.

 RT might not have amassed an audience that remotely rivals CNN’s in conventional terms, but in the new, “democratized” media landscape, it doesn’t need to.

Over the past several years, the network has come to form the hub of a new kind of state media operation: one that travels through the same diffuse online channels, chasing the same viral hits and memes, as the rest of the Twitter-and-Facebook-age media.

In the process, Russia has built the most effective propaganda operation of the 21st century so far, one that thrives in the feverish political climates that have descended on many Western publics.

It is a long article but worth reading if you have any interest in international propaganda and information wars.

As stated it is not just the use of news organisations, it is the use of social media as well. Facebook is gradually admitting how they were used during the US election campaign.

Reuters: Facebook says some Russian ads during U.S. election promoted live events

Some of the ads bought by Russians on Facebook last year promoted events during the U.S. presidential campaign, Facebook Inc said on Tuesday, indicating that alleged meddling ahead of the 2016 election went beyond social media.

Facebook said in a statement that its takedown of what the company last week called Russian-affiliated pages included shutting down “several promoted events.”

Facebook declined to provide details of the promoted events.

Facebook, the world’s largest social network, said last week that an operation likely based in Russia had placed thousands of U.S. ads with polarizing views on topics such as immigration, race and gay rights on the site during a two-year period through May 2017.

The Daily Beast, the news website that first reported on the promoted events posted on Facebook, said one advertisement promoted an anti-immigrant rally in Idaho in August 2016.

The rally was hosted by a Facebook group called “Secured Borders,” which was a Russian front and is now suspended, according to the Daily Beast.

In social media they commonly target people who want to believe certain things and  spread issues that have dubious merit.

Ardern not keen on being likened to Trump

Jacinda Ardern’s rise in New Zealand keeps getting international attention.

Wall Street Journal: Immigration Politics Turns Upside Down in New Zealand Election Campaign

Center-left party’s plan to cut immigration helps narrow the gap with conservative government

A tightening election race in this U.S. ally has its roots in anxiety over immigration and the rise of a leader who wasn’t even her party’s first choice when campaigning began more than a month ago.

New Zealand voters will go to the polls on Sept. 23 to decide whether Bill English’s National party should remain in government after nearly nine years or be replaced by the opposition Labour Party headed by Jacinda Ardern, a 37-year-old former president of the International Union of Socialist Youth.

Ardern may not be keen on that being pointed out so prominently.

Ms. Ardern’s rapid ascent owes much to tapping into growing unease about affordability, particularly among young voters, and feeding off a global backlash over immigration.

I think this overstates how much of a part immigration is playing in Ardern’s rise and  Labour’s resurgence. Winston Peters keeps playing the anti-immigration card and he and NZ First are slipping in the polls.

Ms. Ardern wants to cut the annual net migration figure by up to 30,000 people a year to help more New Zealanders find work and own homes, as well as to take the pressure off infrastructure—especially in the commercial capital Auckland, which is often clogged with traffic.

No mention of Donald Trump but in a tweet promoting the article:

NZH followed that up: Jacinda Ardern takes offence at being compared to Donald Trump

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern says she takes offence at being compared to Donald Trump by The Wall Street Journal.

The publication made the comparison in a tweet promoting an article about Labour’s rise in polling under Ardern’s leadership.

Asked about the tweet today, Ardern said she proudly stood behind Labour’s policy to double the refugee quota.

Ardern is adept at diverting from the point.

She did not delve into Labour’s immigration policy which the party estimates would reduce net migration by 20-30,000 a year. That policy was announced by former leader Andrew Little but Ardern has not changed it.

“Our policy has remained the same for the last several months. I have made no change to that policy. Yes, we have infrastructure issues in Auckland and we know we need to address those – we need to build more houses.

“We wouldn’t be having this conversation if there had been proper planning upfront by the current Government.

“That’s another reason I absolutely refute the statement that was made there. And everyone who I think has been watching this campaign will know that what was said there was absolutely false. And, frankly, offensive.”

The Trump comparison was made by a journalist who was reporting from “quite a distance from the campaign”, Ardern said.

Trumps targeting of some groups of immigrants and the measures he is taking, including building a wall between the US and Mexico, is some distance from Labour’s immigration reduction policy.

Labour’s Janus faces

Gareth Morgan has been in trouble for suggesting, in a sexist tweet, that Jacinda Ardern has the face of a pig.

If I were to characterise the Labour Party of the Ardern era, then I would use a different metaphor. I think that the party is a little like the Roman god Janus, who had two faces.
Janus was a confusing, and perhaps confused, god. While one of his faces smiled, the other might scowl. While one of his tongues spoke sweetly, the other might curse.
Jacinda Ardern is a talented and charismatic leader who has brought a smile and a message of hope to the election campaign. She is deservedly surging in the polls.

But at the same time as Ardern smiles and promotes progressive ideas like reducing child poverty and ameliorating Auckland’s housing crisis, Labour continues to run a troubling crusade against both immigration and immigrants. Labour has for the last couple of years been complaining that too many immigrants are entering New Zealand, and the party’s election manifesto promises to cut migrant numbers by almost half.

I disagree with Labour’s plans to cut immigration, but I accept that New Zealanders have the right to debate the subject, and that our various political parties have the right to put forward different policies on the subject.

What I find very ugly, and very ominous, is the rhetoric that Labour has used when it has promoted its immigration policy.

Labour has blamed, without evidence, problems as different including New Zealand’s high youth suicide rate and Auckland’s gridlocked roads on recent migrants to this country. And as they campaign for re-election the party’s MPs continue to use language that stigmatises and dehumanises migrants. In a recent forum of parliamentary candidates, for example, MP Louisa Wall complained that National had ‘flooded’ the country with ‘low-quality’ migrants. By using the word ‘flooded’ Wall compared migrants to a natural disaster, and suggested that New Zealanders’ safety is threatened by the new arrivals. When she used the phrase ‘low-quality’, Wall likened tens of thousands of migrants to defective goods, or inefficient machines. Without having met the vast majority of these people, she is ready to characterise them as less than fully human, and as undeserving of New Zealand citizenship.

Opinion polling shows that a huge majority of New Zealanders dislike Donald Trump and the policies he has pursued as American president. Trump’s ally and ambassador to New Zealand was booed by crowds when he drove from Wellington’s airport to his embassy. A number of Labour politicians have criticised the xenophobia of the Trump regime. Yet Labour, like Trump, is calling for drastic cuts to immigration. And Labour, like Trump, is using irresponsible and ugly rhetoric against migrants.

If Jacinda Ardern is serious about running a positive and hopeful election campaign, why won’t she stop the verbal attacks on new New Zealanders, and reverse Labour’s Trump-like policy on migration? I wouldn’t vote for Trump, and I can’t vote for Labour as long as the party runs this Janus-faced campaign.


Post by Scott Hamilton

Better presentation of shite?

Jacinda Ardern has just been interviewed on RNZ. A quick response:

Backtrack on immigration skills clampdown

In April the Government announced tougher requirements for lower skilled immigrants, but after complaints by provincial employers they are backtracking.

Stuff in April:  What do the Government’s immigration changes mean?

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse has announced a number of changes to New Zealand’s immigration system, aimed at tackling both the number and quality of immigrants coming here for work.

What has the Government actually done?

They’ve made a number of changes to the rules for people applying for a skilled migrant visa – a points-based system for people who want to work and live here indefinitely.

If an applicant would earn less than the median New Zealand income of $48,859, they won’t get any points – even if their job was previously considered as skilled.

What about people here on temporary visas?

The same income thresholds will apply. Someone eligible for a temporary “essential skills” work visa who earns less than the median income can still work here, but only for a maximum of three years before a “stand down period” and a new application.

In addition, seasonal workers will have their visas limited to the length of their work, rather than 12 months as is currently the case.

Stuff today:  Government backdown on immigration changes

A proposed immigration crackdown will be watered down after a backlash from provincial bosses, Prime Minister Bill English has confirmed.

English told TVNZ’s Breakfast programme the changes would not be scrapped but there would “probably be some adjustments.”

The Government announced in April there would be an overhaul of the skills requirements for work visas as immigration heated up as an election year issue.

But the rule changes have been criticised as overly punitive and locking out a large number of skilled or necessary workers, particularly in regions where employers say they are struggling with a labour shortage.

South Island mayors are among those who put pressure on the Government to do a U-turn.

English said the Government would not be scrapping its plans entirely as it was important to get the right balance of skills in the economy.

But there were 10,000 jobs created each month and migrant workers were needed bo “build the houses, drive the trucks, make the whole thing work”.

​English acknowledged there had been a lot of pushback and said employers told the Government there was plenty of work, and strong demand for people to do the work.

“[They’re] doing their best to recruit Kiwis where they can but there are still gaps and they need the skills and are a bit concerned some of the rules might be a bit tight.”.

The April changes seemed to be in reaction to political pressure in election year.

This backtrack is a reaction to reality.

New housing infrastructure agency

The Government seems to have made as much noise and effort in trying to address housing problems this year than in their previous eight years in power. Housing has become both a critical problem and a critical election issue.

A new announcement yesterday: Govt sets up new housing infrastructure agency

The government is setting up a new agency to speed up the building of housing, starting with a fund of $600 million.

Crown Infrastructure Partners (CIP) will be given $300m in each of the next two years, to co-fund basic infrastructure especially, but not only, in Auckland.

The government’s named the first two projects to be considered for funding, one in Drury in Auckland’s rural south, and the other at Wainui in the city’s northern rural area.

The Drury development by Stevenson Limited could be eligible for up to $68m for roading, water and transport spending to accelerate the start of 700 homes by up to two years.

Up to $149m could be available for new roading around the Wainui area near Silverdale.

The fund is the second housing initiative in a fortnight by the government, which unveiled its $1 billion Housing Infrastructure Funds chosen projects 12 days ago.

These sorts of things and this sort of expenditure takes time to set up but one could be a little cynical about the timing.

Related to this: Immigration, tourism continuing to surge

Official figures show a net migration of a record 72,300 people in the year to June; 131,400 people arrived and 59,100 left.

For the month of June, there was a seasonally-adjusted net gain of about 6400 people – the strongest since the start of the year.

“Annual net migration has been steadily increasing since late 2012 when we had more departures than arrivals,” Statistics NZ population statistics senior manager Peter Dolan said.

Westpac senior economist Satish Ranchhod said New Zealanders were choosing to stay put.

“The number of New Zealanders moving offshore remains very low, and we continue to see large numbers of New Zealand citizens returning from Australia.

“The net outflow of New Zealand citizens is at its lowest level since 1984 … this accounts for half of the pick-up in net migration since 2011.”

While the number of new immigrants is a contentious issue a lot of the reason for the increase in net immigration is the slowdown in the numbers of New Zealanders leaving and an increase in the numbers returning.

Ironically Chinese money, builders contribute to Auckland housing construction

Chinese money or Chinese builders are contributing to almost a third of all residential construction under way in Auckland.

A top economist says that the billions of dollars of Chinese investment flowing into the New Zealand industry is badly needed.

 

James Shaw: “Migrants are not to blame…”

Green co-leader James Shaw spoke in Dunedin today (and despte what he said it isn’t cold for this time of year).

He talked about immigration numbers but also in avoiding scapegoating.


Kia ora kotou, nihao, namaste, annyong, kamusta, talofalava, bula, salam alaikum

And warm Pacific greetings – on this cold Dunedin morning – to you all.

***

It’s a privilege to be representing the Green Party at your AGM.

We in the Greens are deeply concerned that the debate about immigration policy in New Zealand has, over the course of time, come to be dominated by populist politicians preaching a xenophobic message in order to gain political advantage.

This ugly strain of political discourse is quieter at times of low net migration into New Zealand, but rises at times of when net migration is high – as it is now, and so, at this election, sadly, the xenophobic drum is beating louder.

Last year I made an attempt to try and shift the terms of the debate away from the rhetoric and more towards a more evidence-based approach.

We commissioned some research which indicated that immigration settings would be best if tied to population growth.

Unfortunately, by talking about data and numbers, rather than about values, I made things worse.

Because the background terms of the debate are now so dominated by anti-immigrant rhetoric, when I dived into numbers and data, a lot of people interpreted that as pandering to the rhetoric, rather than trying to elevate the debate and pull it in a different direction.

We were mortified by that, because, in fact, the Greens have the ambition of being the most migrant-friendly party in Parliament. And I am sorry for any effect it may have had on your communities.

Migrants are not to blame for the social and economic ills of this country.

Migrants are not to blame for the housing crisis.

Migrants are not to blame for our children who go to school hungry.

Migrants are not to blame for the long hospital waitlists.

Migrants are not to blame for our degraded rivers.

It is the government’s failure to plan for the right level of infrastructure and services that has caused this.

***

So today I am not going to talk about numbers, but about values.

And, in all honesty, I don’t think New Zealand will be able to talk about numbers and settings until we’ve had the conversation about values and principles.

Until we can agree on those, we’ll just lurch around responding to changing circumstances or the latest headline.

And what are the values that the Green Party stands for? We stand for an open, inclusive and tolerant Aotearoa New Zealand that welcomes people who want to make a contribution.

We stand for an Aotearoa that stands up to racism and scapegoating and xenophobia.

That’s what’s missing from the debate about immigration. The rhetoric and scapegoating around election year means that people miss the fact that ‘immigrants’ aren’t a sea of strange faces.

They’re people, families, individuals. With hopes and dreams and aspirations. With fears and anxieties and worries. Humans who need love and need to love.

New New Zealanders who love their new homes and want to do so much to give and to give truth to that love.

But New Zealand needs to be better at showing that love back. We haven’t always lived up to that Kiwi mythos of giving people a fair go and being welcoming to strangers.

We have a tendency to treat immigrants as economic units who are either a benefit or a threat to our narrow economic interests.

We tend not to think of immigrants as people in their own right, as people who come to this country for the promise of a better life – as all our ancestors once did.

***

Look at how we treat our migrant workers – often putting them through harsh conditions and low pay just for the privilege of coming here.

It’s shameful that although only 5% of the total workforce are migrant workers – about a third of prosecutions involving employment condition violations involve a migrant worker.

And MBIE doesn’t have enough resources to deal with the problem. We know from their 2016 annual report that they’re falling well short of doing the interventions they need (up to 1049 short) and that one in five investigations are taking longer than six months.

That’s unacceptable. We will invest more resources into the Labour Inspectorate so that we can have more proactive investigations and less migrant worker exploitation.

***

And look at how we treat non-Pakeha New Zealanders in this country. According to a report by the human rights commissioner – one-in-ten Pasifika and one-in-five Asians have faced discrimination in the last 12 months.

Having a non-Pakeha name means you’re 50% less likely to get a call-back for a job interview. Being a migrant means you’re more likely to be over-qualified and over-experienced in the job you do.

And we need to address these issues. The Greens want to trial ethnicity-blind and gender-blind CVs to address discrimination.

***

Look also at how we treat our multicultural associations and migrant centres. Last month the Canterbury Migrant Centre was forced to close due to lack of funding.

The value that your groups bring to New Zealand – not only in easing the settlement process for new migrants but for the diversity and social connections you bring to your areas has been underappreciated for far too long.

The Greens at the heart of government will initiate a funding review so that the valuable work you do is rewarded and recognized through a consistent baseline of funding – so you can get on with the job rather than having to constantly chase the next dollar.

***

Look at how we rip off foreign students with the promise of a so-called high-quality New Zealand education and a pathway to residency.

But then thousands, if not tens of thousands, of these students end up in terribly dodgy private training establishments, doing courses that get them a certificate barely worth the paper it’s printed on and of no value to being able to find a job.

And in the meantime they end up being exploited, working for below minimum wages, and unable to get decent accommodation at a price they can afford. I mean, what way is that to treat anybody, let alone a guest in our house? That’s just a rip-off.

***

I’m proud to lead a party that stands for the politics of love and inclusion, not hate and fear.

I’m also proud to be standing with the most diverse list of candidates we’ve ever put forward for an election. They include:

Two Pasifika candidates – Leilani Tamu, a former diplomat and Fulbright Scholar, and Teanau Tuiono, an climate change advocate for the Pacific Islands
Two Chinese New Zealanders – David Lee, a City Councillor, and Julie Zhu, a freelancer in the theatre and film industries
Raj Singh, an Indian lawyer and successful business owner
Rebekah Jaung, a Korean doctor, currently also doing her PhD
Ricardo Menéndez March, from Mexico, a migrant rights campaigner.
And of course, many of you will have already read about Golriz Ghahraman, who came to New Zealand as a nine-year old refugee from Iran, and who is now an Oxford-educated human rights lawyer who puts war criminals on trial at the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

These, our candidates for Parliament in this year’s election, represent our commitment to the journey of looking more like modern New Zealand and being able to advocate for all New Zealanders.

And we are the furthest along this journey that we have ever been – thanks to the efforts of my colleague Denise Roche, who has been reaching out to ethnic and migrant communities, with sixty-five meetings all over New Zealand, over the last three years.

But we do still have a long way to go.

We will continue to make sure that our party not only looks like modern New Zealand – but also reflects the needs of all New Zealanders.

We haven’t always gotten it right – and we won’t always in the future, either.

But I promise that we will listen to you and learn from our mistakes.

Openness, inclusiveness and tolerance must win out over racism and scapegoating and xenophobia.

Love and inclusion must win out over hate and fear.

We are only great, when we are great together.