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Cunliffe: slash net immigrant numbers from 40,000 a year to as low as 5000

Labour leader David Cunliffe made hard work of it on Thursday, both accusing National of stealing Labour's ideas as it strategically swung left ahead of the election, and criticising Budget 2014 as the "fudge-it budget".

But on immigration, as on housing — where his party favours a foreign buyer ban — Mr Cunliffe has marked a stark policy difference with Finance Minister Bill English.

Both men appeared on TV3's The Nation today. Mr English acknowledged pressure on schools from an increase in net migration, but said the National-led government had no plans to tighten the rules.

Mr Cunliffe says Labour would slash the net migration flow from above 40,000 — which he claims is overheating the property market — to between 5000 and 15,000.


RAW DATA: The Nation/TV3 transcript: Patrick Gower interviews David Cunliffe. Watch the interview here

Patrick Gower:  Good morning David Cunliffe and you heard the Finance Minister Bill English there say that the Government is happy with immigration settings. That is despite some of the highest figures ever – people flooding into Auckland and no-one leaving. What are Labour’s thoughts on New Zealand’s current immigration settings?

David Cunliffe: Well I thought the minister missed the main point which is the responsibility of any government is the total flows and New Zealand is well served when we get enough new migrants to fill our skill gaps but not so many that it overwhelms our housing market or the ability of our schools and our hospitals to cope. And we always used to try to manage to a zone of say between about 5000 and 15,000 net positive. They’re looking at 41, 42,000, that is just too much and it will overheat the property market even further.

So what would Labour do? Too much, you’ve said immigration settings are too high, what would Labour do?

We would manage net migration flows as far as possible to a steady, positive, predictable level that is sufficient for our housing market and our schools and our hospitals to cope with.

How would you do that because you want to come down from about 40,000 to about 15 [thousand]?

Yeah, well the easiest way to do it is to look at the numbers that are able to come in under different categories and just to manage the points system so you take the very best and the ones that are most suitable for the skill gaps and then you turn it back up again as either the homecoming Kiwi flow reduces or the economy starts to cool and you just have to manage it a bit counter-cyclically. Let me say also Labour has always been committed to an open and multi-cultural society and we welcome the contribution that our migrant communities make.

Absolutely but what you’re talking about here in layman’s terms is a Labour government restricting immigration straight off the bat?

No, I’m saying that you must have a flow which is steady, positive and predictable. What under National you get is a yo-yo effect from nothing much if they think that’s politically expedient to open slather as it is at the moment. That means that you may well have the Winston Peters factor coming in and talking that up and I think neither is actually right. What you want to be is somewhere in that sweet spot in the middle where you’re assisting our business growth with the right skills that fill the gaps and yet not too much for our schools and hospitals.

Yes but you get to that by restricting immigration don’t you?

You get to it by managing the total into a zone that is in the middle, that’s right.

Yes and you’re talking 10, 15-thousand less migrants to get it?

No, I haven’t put a number on it. Obviously if you’re starting off at plus 40,000 levels you’ve just got to move gradually because you can’t turn the tap off completely, you’d have a big skill shortage.

What about the Winston Peters idea of getting migrants and immigrants to move straight to the provinces – do five years in say Whanganui or Oamaru? What about that kind of policy?

We believe that people are communities not commodities so you can’t just force someone to go and live somewhere you know, they’re not objects, they’re human beings, they have families that they might be trying to reunify with, they have communities that they want to be part of so that sounds on the face of it not the easiest thing to administer. What however there are opportunities to do is to build on things like the voluntary bonding programmes which actually both governments have done where in specific careers you give people the opportunity to relocate, maybe in exchange for some career benefit for them as we do with students who get tertiary fees remission.

So you won’t go there with Winston Peters’ policy?

Look our position, and of course post-election negotiations are post-election, is that we would try to encourage strong regional development and job growth but we’re not going to force people to live in particular towns.

Sure so looking at this you are prepared though to restrict immigration in order to help the housing market, particularly here in Auckland?

Well look there’s nothing new at all in the idea that immigration flows should be managed into the sweet spot that supports business growth but doesn’t overwhelm our society’s opportunity to integrate those people or our schools and hospitals’ ability to cope.

Bill English says there there’s nothing wrong with New Zealand’s immigration settings. He’s wrong in your eyes?

I think he’s being a little blind to the wider social and economic effects because basically people are going to be paying higher interest rates on their mortgage because Bill English won’t see the whole picture on immigration.

Let’s take a look at his Budget – free doctor’s visits for under-13’s, do you support that?

Look I think there’s a lot that’s attractive about that. Remember it was Labour who brought in the under-6 free visits, National opposed that, said it was a waste of money –

So you like his Budget policy?

I quite like that policy, I’m going to be honest with you and the good thing about it of course is it creates a bit of financial headroom and we’ll be seeing what we can do. We always said we were going to look at this Budget, see how it comes out before we bring out our own.

What does this tell us about his budget? The centrepiece of Bill English’s budget-

Is Labour policy.

But you like it?

I think what it tells you is that the Government is engaging in a fair bit of what I call ‘politics as usual’ and it’s quite a serious issue.

Yeah but what it also tells us is engaging on stealing your ground

Yeah that’s partly what I mean by ‘politics as usual’. But let’s take the bigger picture, I think this is really important for the mums and dads at home, Paddy if I can, you’ve had 5 or 6 –

Yeah but those people at home need to know why they need to vote for change, what they are getting from this guy

They know what’s going to happen. They need to know what’s going to happen if they return the current Government compared to what would be different under us. So under this Government what you have seen is 5 or 6 years of fairly hard nose, fairly divisive policy. They gave a massive tax cut at the top end, they put GST up on everyone else, they flogged off the family silver to the 2% of New Zealanders who could afford it and the foreigners who clip the ticket. And now they’re open slather in the housing market for foreign speculators who are never going to pay a capital gains tax. On top of that I think fairly ugly prescription you are getting, a lolly wrapper that’s taken out of Labour’s lolly box, right. Now the trouble with that lolly is when you unwrap it, it’s not chocolate.

But the trouble, and to take this a step further, is that their box costs three times less than yours. You’re going in with $1.4 billion family package and theirs is $500 million -

Ours is over multiple years. Their family package, there’s huge problems with it. Huge problems –

Yours costs three times as much-

And does three times as much good. Theirs for example, maximum of 18 weeks paid parental leave – Labour 26. Theirs conveniently leaves out the poorest children who get nothing. We are committed to the idea that nobody should be left behind and that’s in everybody’s interests when every New Zealand child, every New Zealand child gets the best possible start. That’s both a practicality, it’s a good investment and it’s an ethical issue.

Ok. I want to read you this quote from John Key “middle income New Zealand pays a lot of tax they don’t get a lot in return”. Do you agree with that?

Yeah that’s a dog whistle to middle ground voters for a possible tax cut that he hasn’t told Bill English about.

Will you rule out tax cuts to middle ground voters?

Again and what we’ve said let’s see the Government’s numbers - I know you want a yes no answer Paddy but just give me a second alright –

But this is a dog whistle too. You’re not ruling it out?

No, it’s not a dog whistle at all. We’ve got to see where the numbers are. We are committed to running fiscal surpluses and we are committed to some far sighted change that will both make our economy better before jobs, and for homes and families. That’s our priority. Now if, as we have always said, there’s an opportunity to reduce cost pressures on hard pressed middle New Zealanders we will also look at doing that. And we are with New Zealand Power, with our monetary policy which will pull down interest rates and mortgages, with a whole bunch of things that will take cost out of the family budget like for example making sure the supermarkets are playing fair, all that sort of stuff. Labour is on the side of families. Making sure that they can afford to live and live well, and that their children can afford to get jobs and stay in New Zealand

I want to turn quickly now to spying and if you become Prime Minister and take control of our intelligence agencies. We see this week more information from Glenn Greenwald about the GCSB and its knowledge of the programme XKeyscore, we have also got an interview coming up that you have seen with Jeremy Scahill, the investigative journalist, who’s saying New Zealand spies know about drone attacks. What would you do about these issues the day you become Prime Minister?

I think these are very serious issues and it’s been quite sobering reading is my honest personal reaction. We are already committed, and I will underline it right now, to a full review of our security establishment to ensure that the rule of law is maintained and to ensure that at every New Zealander has the right to be free from blanket surveillance from our agencies unless there is a judge’s warrant with probable cause.

And from other Five Eyes agencies?

Well look I don’t think you or I have the power to control what other countries do. We have a certain level of capabilities –

It’s a meaningless promise then isn’t it?

Well I can only govern for the New Zealand government agencies. I would expect our partners to respect the New Zealand rule of law. I want to be very clear about that. And the Five Eyes treaty does provide that partners do not spy on the domestics of the other Five Eyes countries.

How concerned are you by the allegations raised by Jeremy Scahill that New Zealand spies know about drone attacks and know potentially about the New Zealand man Daryl Jones killed in them?

I just don’t know what the details are about that and it’s an area, Paddy, where I think it’s very difficult for non-specialists to comment where we are blind to what’s really going on. I think the big picture though as you have rightly pointed out is one that will be of concern to most New Zealanders and they can look to an incoming government to uphold the rule of law, to uphold their civil liberties and make sure that no New Zealander ever is blanket surveilled without a judge’s warrant by a New Zealand agency.

Comments and questions

New Zealand needs more people to help its economy grow.

If housing is under pressure (not that single-digit percentages of foreign buyers are causing it), then increase supply.

The Greens' idea to allow non-NZ residents to build new home, but not buy them would dampen immigration.

NZ First's idea to send immigrants to designated areas is worthy of North Korea (and Lorks, just think - if banished to the provinces they might buy Huka Lodge).

Cunliffe knows all this, and probably agree with it. He comes from a business background. And, when not trying to tack to the left of John Key (admittedly, and increasingly difficult proposition), he's quite economically literate. But needs must want as September 20 approaches.

Cunliffe is not from a business background, he's from the civil service.

Such nonsense. The richest countries in the world with the highest living standards tend to have small populations and sensible government and sound business leadership: Norway (5.1m), Iceland(325K), Denmark (5.6m), Switzerland (8m), Singapore (5.4m). NZ once, a very long time ago, could claim to be a member of this select group. NZ's population has risen 50% since 1970 and yet the stats show continual decline in most measures of well-being. One suspects you have never set foot in either India or China, two of NZ's biggest suppliers of immigrants. Perhaps you should.

The idea <> is silly. Luxembourg has few people but is wealthy. Switzerland too. Singapore has few people, is tiny and wealthy. Bangladesh and Nigeria have lots of people. More people does not mean a better economy. All the biggest countries are poor, including China.

The first four years of a national led Government saw Labour Wiston First bleat on and on about how every NZer was heading to Aussie for a job and at the same time moaning about house price increases!! Now they are bleating about net gains in migration causing house price increases.
So why, when everybody was moving to Aus., didn't house prices fall. And they want us to vote for them!! Go figure!

Home prices moved up because the banks were offering cheap credit, while , the national economy has been oiled by $60 billion in overseas loans.

Much of this money found its way into increased house prices, roading, broad band and lower taxes for the high earners.

All of these factors have been flawed, and unsustainable. The major benefactors has been overseas interests, with more roads encouraging more use of the car and oil, along with the extra investment overseas banks have received from government and private loans.

Our biggest import costs are oil and overseas exchange, which have growth exponentially under current leadership. This is no coincidence when the country is lead by someone who has been part of their administration. We'll never know whetehr hes still not on their payroll or not?

Don't think Labour will get too many votes ,when the news gets out Cunliffe fom Labour, and their associates are anti immigration into NZ.Wonder what he would say, or do if all lot more than 40,000 Kiwis came home.That being their birthright.

Do you suffer from cognitive dissonance? This is about massive waves of non New Zealanders coming in raising housing prices and effectively holding wage increase to less than inflation due to cheap foreign labour. That issue could turn the election.


There goes the immigrant vote for Labour. I wonder how many of those 800,000 missing Labour votes at the last election came from immigrant South Auckland Polynesians and their close New Zealand fanau?

I agree with Cunliff, the National budget leaves out those most in need and the most vulnerable. It offers a watered-down version of some Labour policies. It has yet again trollied out tax cuts for the bourgeoisie. Whereas Labour has the will to make a real difference to every NZer in poverty, and these days there are quite a few. My main concerns with National, though, are the lies and cronyism and gigantic national debt. On those issues alone we should give Labour a turn at bat.

Time for a change of government, or are we going to have National (and therefore the bankers and foreign corporations) in power forever? I suppose Labour is no different in that respect but at least their policies are more people-friendly to lower-income New Zealand. My own issues with National are corruption and misuse of power, and the botched Christchurch rebuild.

If 3.5% heading to 4% growth rates, low interest rates only heading to mid-range in a tightening cycle, one of the highest labour participation rates in the OECD, 40yr record terms of trade etc, are a by product of "bankers and foreign corporations, then I say give us more of them !

You can have them. Capital is geysering out of NZ and the national debt is around 40 bil now I think. And where do you think all those profits from underpaid labour and trade, (profits that NZ will never see) are going?

So you seem to be saying that more should have been spent in the budget (where else is the money going to come from for the policies you want), yet at the same time criticising National for the size of the national debt. It's a bit like a household, if you want to spend more than you are making, then your debt will grow ....

Finally Cunliffe says something Kiwis want to hear but why would we believe he'd ever deliver on it

So does this mean Labour's policy is to allow between 5000 to 15,000 migrants exclusively from China only?

Nope - from that ex-convict colony.

The UK is smaller than NZ & has a population of 63 million, Labor's policy is pure racism.
Also we need more people to become a REAL country, as advised by experts recently.

There are two sorts of immigration into the UK, the movement from all over the world of able, ambitious and exciting people moving to one of the better and more excitig nations on earth, the other sort of immigration is by various sort of riff raff and troublemakers from Islamic nations and parts of Africa My own view is that in the near future Europe and Australaia will need to take harder more effective action to stop the second type of movement, except for those in the professional class and attractive women.
As a largely agricultural nation , the prosperity of this country has always depended on being a small population, as there are serious limits on agricultual production due to sustainablity, distance and stategic factors. It is arguably New Zealand should never had adopted immigration policies that would take the population above 3 million unless it became a modern western nation based on services, touism and leisure and a bit of high tech in IC, energy, boats and planes.
The assumptionn that more houses and popualtion increase through immigration and Keynes style projects like Rebuilding Christchurch create medium term growth through the multiplier effect is largely true in NZ, as about half the available NZ workforce is low grade, poorly educated , controlled by outdated and attitudes rejected throughtout the poor west, and actually has a negative effect economically, because an ugly population is immensely unattractive and unhelpful to the advanced world.
My own view is that allowing immigration from the Pacific Islands has always been mistake and Immigration from Islamic nations and the sub continent has ceased to be desireable over the last two decades and oly a third of those from China/HK should have been pemitted.
Cunliffe served in the Goverment of Helen Clark which for inconcievable reasons decided to recreate NZ as a haven and holding pen for the failures and people Australia didn't want and as a place where people from the third world and former Soviet Empire could transition to work, study or operate in the advanced world. THey also envisaged NZ would be a sort of ghetto for other lost causes, minority interests etc like the supposedly gay community on K and Ponsonnby Road and the various Soviet alliged academics at Auckland university. I other words Clark and Peters were very much party of the Clark government which created the problem and the Peters rhetoric has never beenn more than hot air on this issue
Cunliffe is now partly right that the immigration from Asia, particularly China/HK needs to be restricted.

Labour were moaning about losing population not so long ago. Now they're moaning about gaining population. What on earth do they want? .

New Zelamd has been built on foreign investment for a century and a half.
All OECD countries are in the cart in terms of diminishing tax intake as baby boomers head into retirement. Tax collected to pay for what hospitals and police and so on.immigration is one way to mitigate against this.

This reduce immigration number thing is plain stupid. Actually it's quite embarrassing and poor old David must realise he is gonna lose by a country mile to come up with something as nutbar as this. No idea which policy analysts he relies on but this is so bad they should be fired. Golly, who is the next Labour leader going to be ?

We could simply copy Aussie's housing policy ( only new houses ) but fiddling with immigration to this extent is loony tunes. Or we could nothing - probably all end up like the Japanese buying golf courses years ago anyway.

Stupidity from an increasingly less relevant chap. Goodbye David .

I wouldn't worry about housing supply in Auckland. Auckland Council has a 7 billion dollar debt currently. By next local body election it will be 10 billion. By the time Bill English pays off a big chunk of the national debt - down to 20b, Auckland Council will likely be 20b in debt - who would want to live in Auckland with a rates bill of 10k per year.

Most of China. NZ is seen as having a stable economy and politics, not to mention the moderate climate. It will only be Kiwis who will not be able to afford Auckland.

Immigration is a good thing. The greatest economy in the world was built on the back of those arriving at Ellis Island.

That is an absurd thing to say - who will do all the work? NZ is not producing enough skilled people in IT or the Medical space to keep up, so he wants to cut immigration to cool the housing market?? I'd expect better from a 15 year old school student - that is such a staggeringly stupid thing to say

This is what happens when you believe that changing economic outcomes is as simple as pulling a few levers. Yes, such a policy may well help with an overheated housing market but what of the second order impacts? What's the answer to the skills shortage, ban Kiwis from leaving? Then you've got a bunch of unemployed builders because new houses are no longer required, what lever are they going to pull to resolve that issue?

Make no mistake, you vote Labour (or Greens, Mana . . . ) this election you're voting to return NZ to the interventionalist 70s. If that sounds good to you fine, but don't come bleating when the country can no longer afford the kind of health care, education and retirement benefits that you want . . . and what do you know, the kids are leaving for a better life overseas again.

Thoughtless man! We lack enough people with medical, engineering and building trades skills now. Limit migrants and it all just gets worse!