Cunliffe: slash net immigrant numbers from 40,000 a year to as low as 5000
"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?"Featured comment
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.