Finding the Right Balance

  • Winston Peters
Deputy Prime Minister

MUSEUM OF NEW ZEALAND, WELLINGTON

Judge Mick Brown, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

This conference is the first time, for many years, that we have stopped to consider exactly what we want from immigration, and how we can achieve it.

As a country we need to develop a population strategy, and an immigration policy, based on accurate information.

That strategy must be flexible enough to meet New Zealand's changing needs for different skills and different expertise.

In developing policy we must also consider the limits of our social and economic infrastructure.

Because our country cannot sustain the pressure of unrestrained immigration, it is vital that we use this forum to debate all of the issues, to arrive at a sustainable, long-term solution for population and immigration issues.

This conference is not designed to slam the door on immigration. Nor do we seek to put one migrant group above another.

The driving force behind this forum is reasoned analysis. All New Zealanders, including migrants, can only benefit from policy that is courageous, reasoned and understood.

We must have a policy that:

considers our best interests
honours our international commitments
brings the skills we need
ensures a long term commitment from migrants
supports the successful settlement of immigrants
And the policy must reflect the value and privilege of New Zealand citizenship.

On the issue of immigration policy, New Zealand has a history of moving from one extreme to another. We have opened the flood gates in some years, and tried to tighten them in others.

These policy swings are shown by immigration figures.

In the five years to 1996, more than 200,000 people flooded our shores.

In 1996 alone, more than 54,000 people gained residency here.

The flood of new immigrants placed pressure on housing, interest rates, schools, hospitals and social services. And of course, there was more racial tension.

Studies show that immigration and growing employment caused house prices to increase in the main centres from 1986 to 1995.

In 1995 the average construction cost of a new home in Auckland rose from $130,000 to $141,800. The average sale price lifted 13% to $286,000.

Increasing numbers of immigrants added to inflationary pressures.

And there has been growing resentment in some areas to the dramatic change in community cultures.

In 1995, the government of the day changed its immigration policy to stem the flood of immigrants.

An English language test was introduced. Those who fail it, must pay $20,000 to settle here.

Consequently the number of Asian immigrants dropped to just 13,000 this year - a five year low.

Migrant investment dropped from $808 million in 1995-96 to less than $200 million today.

There is also widespread discontent among immigrants about the difficulty of setting up a business here. The laws and bureaucracy have proved difficult for many.

These facts clearly reflect the wild swings in immigration policy. Swings based on knee-jerk reactions.

It is our goal to change that. We need to find the right balance. That is why we have called this conference and that is why you experts are here to explore the issues.

During the election campaign last year, much was said in the media about New Zealand First's approach to immigration.

Let us make one thing clear; New Zealand First is not anti-migrant. New Zealand First is not anti-humanitarian.

What we as New Zealanders objected to was our country being used as a dumping ground. For instance, we don't support the practice of parents leaving their families here while they live elsewhere and support some other economy.

We don't want people who marry New Zealanders and then desert them once they have gained citizenship.

We don't want people who bring their money here for short-term purposes and then leave.

What we want is simple.

We want migrants who bring to this country much needed skills and expertise.

We also want people who genuinely want to live here and who can make a positive contribution and commitment to this country.

It's important that our immigration policy reflects these ideals.

Make no mistake, New Zealand depends heavily on the skills and expertise of highly trained immigrants.

In the health field alone, more than 500 overseas doctors were granted registration in New Zealand in 1996-97.

Overseas scientists, researchers, academics, engineers, entrepreneurs and tradespeople all make significant contributions to our country.

We need to import highly skilled people from time to time and we need a policy that facilitates this.

We must also maintain our commitment to those who come here on humanitarian grounds. The challenge is finding the right balance.

Today, our country supports a diverse range of cultures and ethnic groups. The face of our nation is rapidly changing.

We have Americans, Asians, Australians, British, Europeans, Maori, Pacific Islanders, South Africans and many more.

Our population is also getting older.

The elderly as a percentage of population are expected to grow from 12% today to 25% by year 2051.

This trend will bring its own special challenges, which we need to address now.

All of these aspects are important to understanding who we are and where we are going.

It's also very important to look at the resources we already have in determining the future of immigration.

You see if it's people we want, then what is wrong with our own people?

What's wrong with the tens of thousands of unskilled New Zealand Europeans, Maoris, and Pacific Islanders that should be, but are not, part of our workforce?

What's wrong with training them, and teaching them new skills, and demanding a positive economic contribution from them?

It's important to recognise that many New Zealanders want us to look at our current resources and assess our problems first, before opening the doors to others.

Ladies and gentlemen, you have already heard from some interesting and thought provoking speakers and today promises more of the same.

You will hear from Alexander Sundakov on the changes that may occur to our communities and societies and the social and economic implications this may have.

You will also hear a Maori perspective from Sir Tipene O'Regan on the links between population change, economic growth and Maori development.

And of course, there will be more panel discussions.

It is important that you don't underestimate the responsibility you have in helping to formulate a population strategy and immigration policy for our future.

As Professor Ian Pool says: "Population is about everybody's lives - ours, our children's and our grandchildren's."

Your ideas and your views will be considered very seriously by the Government in any future decisions.

I wish you well for the rest of the conference.