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PM plays high-stakes game by accepting Aussie boat people

Prime Minister John Key’s decision to allow 150 unwanted Australian boat people a year into New Zealand could go down as one of his biggest political gambles.

By effectively signing up to Australia’s repugnant treatment of asylum seekers he runs the risk of overnight destroying this country’s well-deserved humanitarian record in dealing with refugees.

Australia has earned international opprobrium for treating the boat people as criminals and locking them up in camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Now, by cosying up to Julia Gillard and agreeing to relocate some here – as well as indicating that others intent on setting sail for New Zealand will be sent to Australian camps should they make landfall here – Mr Key is ensuring we are going to be tarred by the same brush.

But he is probably gambling on the fact that grassroots public opinion in New Zealand is the same as Australia, where the boat people are largely viewed as opportunists and queue jumpers intent on exploiting international conventions on refugees.

So why is our prime minister taking such a risk?

Clearly, there has got to be a quid pro quo for New Zealand, but if there is one, it’s not immediately apparent.

For his part, Mr Key says it is just a case of “helping our mates” in Australia. But there must be more to this than meets the eye, given the huge controversy over Australia’s handling of boat people.

Why didn’t he insist on Australia relaxing the rules for the estimated 100,000 New Zealanders in Australia who are not covered by social welfare as part of the deal?

As a former foreign currency trader, Mr Key is well used to cutting deals, which makes what he’s done in this instance even more baffling – unless, of course, there is a bigger end game, which will become apparent in the fullness of time.

In the meantime, he has left himself open to pointed criticism from the likes of former immigration minister Aussie Malcolm, who accuses him of being unprincipled.

“Why John Key has a need to cosy up with Julia Gillard on this issue I really don’t know,” Mr Malcolm told NBR ONLINE.

“There is no upside for New Zealand and in terms of international conventions and the rule of law what we have done is terrible.”

Mr Malcolm describes Mr Key as “a transaction man, and this is pure Merrill Lynch”.

“You know, there’s a million bucks in this for me, there’s a million bucks in it for you and there’s a million bucks in it for the banks, so let’s do it even though it’s sub-prime mortgage and someone is going to get burnt down the line.

“But hey, it’s not going to be you or me or the bank so why should we worry. That’s how John Key works.” 

More by Rod Vaughan

Comments and questions

One wonders what Rod Vaughan means by 'controversy'? Australia handles those refugees who follow the procedure established by international law exactly like every other democracy. On the other hand, Australia, like any other sovereign state, controls who crosses her borders and who does not. Yeah, there is controversy, but it's between those who obey the (international) law and those who do not.

Unprincipled, indeed.

Yes, we would much prefer plane people who can be fast-tracked through customs in order to use their cash in our casinos.

John Key had long left the scene before sub prime mortgages came into existence. Hopefully the ex-Labour Party MP, Aussie Malcolm, has completed more precise research on the hordes of immigrants he assisted into NZ!

@ Mac
The sub-prime mortgage was an example and just saying that John Key does not care about the end result and, more importantly, who it hurts as long as he can cash some benefits for himself.

There is absolutely no proof or evidence in the article for your assertions of John Key's not caring for end result or getting any "cash for himself" for helping out Australia. Actually, the black point for the article is exactly this: they say with grave expression on their faces "there must be more to this than meets the eye", but don't bother to specify.

When was Aussie Malcolm a Labour Party MP? He was a National MP when he was in Cabinet,

It's sickening that DonKey did not confont the fact Kiwis in Aussie are treated worse than boat people. Kiwis in Aussie get no rights to financial assistance, both federal and state, and Kiwi children have limited rights to health and education. In contrast to boat people, who get federal and state assistance, grants and special schemes.

DonKey choose to take 150 people per year, who will probably move to Australia once they get a passport in exchange for Australia's government acting as NZ's debt collector.

Boat people will work hard, coming from situations where they were persecuted and forced to flee their own country. The will offer more to New Zealand than many of the Islander immigrants who base themselves in the Auckland ghetto underclass. They also won't be able to make a claim on any land or sea or water rights, but will just get on with tyring to make a new life and be part of a new country. Great.

Please refer to Iraqi refugee article in NBR and the 300+ boat people killed who is now living in New Zealand getting legal aid for his appeal.

Part of letting refugees into New Zealand is giving them the same rights as all New Zealanders. Letting refugees have access to legal aid is more palatable than the Family Court lawyer who make a living from it feeding off families in crisis. It is also more palatable than the feeding frenzy of lawyers with their snouts stuck in the Waitangi Tribunal trough.

Not one to spread rumours... However, Gillard was overheard saying "Take the 150 boat people, or we'll get Clark booted from the UN and you will have her instead"

As rough as this deal is, we still got the better deal...

Perhaps it was in return for assistance getting some of the staggering $600m in student loan debt owed by Kiwis in Aussie repaid.

A good trade if you ask me.

Cheap labour to work in industries shunned by the well-to-do whites. Recover the massive student debt (read Labour election bribe).

I share with you, Mr Vaughan, a more than passing curiosity as to what is in this for us. I fear that Mr Key is not proving so clever of late and I have to wonder if he just left this one also to his advisers, who are leading him a merry dance of mistakes.
You are correct that the Kiwi sense of fair play is offended that so many refugees are just well-heeled or sponsored queue jumpers who can clearly afford air flights and accommodation to the closest point then boarding a leaky tub for the final leg. Finally, my idea of a refugee is someone to whom we grant safe haven during times of conflict, then when it is safe they are repatriated back to their own community and country.

I agree that there is more to this than meets the eye. John Key is no fool.

For those who criticise the Australian government for not giving full welfare and other social security status to NZers, consider this. John Key is probably happy with this, although he would never say so. The policy makes it a little less attractive for Kiwis to go to Australia, and that suits JK. By giving full status to Australians coming to NZ, the govt makes it as attractive as possible to have well-educated hard-working Aussies come here.

Excellent work by JK getting the ATO to start chasing down our student loan dodgers. The ATO does the work and we get our loans repaid. Brilliant.

The value of an NZ passport rises every day that international economics, global warming and civil war, etc, looks like buggering up the rest of the world. So why on earth should we be taking boat people in as new residents when there is a multitude of wealthy intelligent would-be immigrants to chose from?
I'm all for giving a bit of charity now and then, but not in this instance.
These refugees will cost us an arm and a leg forever - a waste of taxpayer money much better spent elsewhere.

Oh boy, Julia Gillard has JK wrapped around her little finger. No result on double taxation issues or Kiwis working in Aussie to receive any benefits. But we will take their tax generated, thanks very much.

Now we are going to take boat people. I started as JK's greatest fan but now he has to go. I'm disgusted in him.

A clever longer term move by Mr Key that gets right over the head of some of these commentators. We need Australa a great deal more than they need us so parroting silly media comments shows a total lack of understanding

But the point you're all overlooking is JK is a gambler, so why the surprise?
I just wish he could be more honest and not try to cover up his decision with spin.

Well, cheer leader Chris, let's wait to see what practical benefit comes out of these fine words.

WHAT WOULD YOU DO? The year is 2031. There has been a civil war in once peaceful New Zealand. your ethnic group is on the losing side. You had nothing to do with the war but your business and your home are destroyed.

You have a young family to feed and have lost everything. Your brother has been taken away and tortured for information by the ruling junta. You've heard they're coming for you and your family. People are being slaughtered for the colour of their skin.

Do you A. get weapons and fight to the end
B. Get your family to a UN refugee camp where you will languish for years in dire poverty and disease;?
C. Await years your turn in the "queue" for resettlement in a safe country or
D. Pay a seemingly nice man all your remaining fortune to get you on a leaky boat to take you to a safe country where you can start over.?

WHAT WOULD YOU DO? Some of the contributors to this forum say we can't afford compassion. I say a bit of compassion is a very good investment.

Remember: what goes around always comes around.