TRANSCRIPT OF CLOSING SPEECHLabour
ladies and gentlemen, this conference for me as a politician has been something of a record. i haven't said anything during it but i'm getting my revenge because i have the last word.
i've sat through this conference, i've listened to some brilliant presentations by many of you. i've listened to many heartfelt views of people who are operating at both the shop front and the coalface of managing or looking after people.
this is a first for new zealand, this conference. before i start my attempt at least to sum up two days of some of the most intensive presentations and discussion that i've privaleged to be at, i would just like to offer some thanks.
first and foremost to you mick, judge mick brown for so generously chairing this conference with the humour that this subject probably deserves.
i secondly would like to offer my thanks and indeed the thanks of the government and i imagine everyone of you here, to the forty odd presenters, commentators and panel participants for the two days of work and effort that you have put into making this such a success.
i'd also like to thank my staff at the immigration service, particularly my staff in my own office and the prime ministers department and the other departments who have been associated with this conference for the many months of preparation, the many months of pulling together to what i think has been an oustandingly successful two days, and i just would like us to collectively thank those people.
it's always dangerous of course to pick anyone out, but i would particularly like to thank dr jim smith, from the rand corporation, for coming so far away.
jim i think i haven't heard anything other than the most profound praise for your contribution to this conference, and i imagine that many of us will go away today thinking that maybe we're not so different in terms of some of the issues that we have to grapple with here in new zealand.
well ladies and gentlemen, the conference was about people, communities and growth. growth as we saw it was not economic growth, although that clearly is a component. it's about our growth as a nation, and i'm going to try and pull some of the threads together from the last two days. it seems to me it boils down to three things.
who are we what will we become and what does this mean for the policies that the goverment, or you in your own local communities, may choose to introduce.
i'm sorry if this might be a bit disjointed because it has all been thrown together, and i must say probably the most profound experience i've had at this conference was being caught in the mens loo when the fire bells went. it's most unsettling when you're writing a speech i can tell you. that's a terrible admission because you now know that politicians always write their speeches in the loo.
but, who are we?
well, one thing is that we are changing fast and i think the presentations by professors ian pool and richard bedford and len cook showed just how dramatically we are changing.
we have changed quickly in the last twenty or so years. we are transforming ourselves and i think this flavour came through in the conference that we are moving away from a sort of a monocultural domination by europeans, the colonists to the renching process of coming to grips with the bicultural focus on many of our policies now and i imagine increasingly moving towards a multicultural focus which is very much reflected in everyone of you here today.
the third issue which some of the panels attempted to grapple with today was do we have a national identity?
well we know we are new zealanders. we don't probably know who we really are, because in many ways new zealanders haven't come to grips with the changes that have gone around them. but i was particularly struck by dr rajan prasad's comment when he said we are really very timid at discussing these issues.
it's either not politically correct, or it's too difficult to open these issues up, but at the real root problem that we have is we have been perhaps until today or this conference, too timid to discuss alot of these issues.
i hope that at least in part because of what has happened in the last two days, that we will be able to be far less timid at discussing what is going on in new zealand.
someone also said that we should be reaching to a new plateau of concensus and cooperation, and get to the point where we are at peace with our indiginous people. a very profound statement. i think that was rajan again who made that point and the whole process of dealing with the treaty of waitangi claims is part of that.
there is also the issue about how others see us. jean matara gave us i think a very comprehensive, or very interesting picture of the cleaner at the wellington hospital, who was a princess or a noble in her samoan community. people like me see that person as a cleaner, as someone from the lower social economic part of our community. but the samoan community see that person in an entirely different way, and maybe we have to start looking at how others see us as well as we see them differently.
we have changed our composition dramatically. fifty years ago, new zealand was over 95% european. today it is under 80% european, and falling fast. who knows what we will look like in fifty years.
and for those people like myself, who are presently pulling the power levers, or at least we like to think we are, the simple fact is that the levers will be pulled by different people in the future, and that contains some very wrenching change - at least in the minds of alot of us.
we are having to come to grips with the fact that nearly well over 10% of the population don't speak english as a first language. three hundred and eighty five thousand new zealanders speak something else other than english. english is the language that we make our economic process work but that's not the only dimension that matters.
and i totally agree with every one of you who have made the point that we have poor information and poor research about what is happening in new zealand. who are the people that are coming in to new zealand, we don't know much about them. their passages of life as they go through their integration into new zealand and to the extent that i can excerise any influence, i will attempt to encourage my colleagues to put the effort, and most importantly the money into ensuring that happens.
the second question. what will we become? ian pool has made the point that we are at a demographic crossroads. well he's right. we're going to get older, everywhere. and our retired population, particularly in our working population, and that carries with it some quite significant policy issues that we will have to deal with.
we are coping already with low or lowish fertility rates, and they will have a profound impact on what we will become in the future.
longer life expectancy. for everyone in the community. and we will become increasing and more rapidly diverse as a country.
but i have to ask the question, and i don't know whether i've got even a suggestion of the answer, but what about jim smiths exogamological determinism effect? - the second and third generations of families as they intermarry - the difficulties of actually identifying who we really belong to. pauline winter described to her panel this morning, where her roots or where her ethnic origins were from. and i imagine that she is living proof of difficulty that many of us will have two or three generations from now in describing ourselves as maori, cook island, chinese, whatever, and that carries with it issues about how we treat or how we look at those people.
the next point i want to make is, and it came out time and time again in the conference, was the change in the compositional impacts that are going on in new zealand.
there are inexonerable changes going on that are determined by things that have already happened. that's just a fancy way of saying, our birth rate, our fertility rate is controlling by and large how we will look and how we will be shaped in the future. and it seemed to me that this was most graphically brought home by the graph that len cook put up during his presentation.
you can see from that that if we are to avoid - and that's a question in itself -that if we are to avoid the situation where our population begins to fall in twenty, thirty or thereabouts, we will have to engage in a much more vigerous immigration programme than we do at present. that chart says it all in terms of how we look at immigration policy in the future. that chart also disguises something that i as minister of immigration am still coming to grips with and that is the difference between controlled and uncontrolled immigration, and i want to talk just a little bit about that later on.
the next point is the indigenous impact and i think we saw a feature of that today in sir tipene's speech in the globalisation of attitude amongst new zealand maori. his inspired speech said something very, very profound to most of us. maori are going to look out to the rest of the world. they do not feel threatened like some of us do about immigration. they certainly do not seem to feel threatened by making their place in the world. that all goes extremely well for handling our present bi-cultural issues. and of course the issue of investment in people and education, a point that came through time and time again.
one of the things that sort of snuck in through a few papers was the complications that are going to be created for us by internal migration - something we tend to overlook in the policy debate. and it may well be that if the forecasts we were shown come to pass, the internal migratory flows will be more important than the external ones, whatever the south island might think about it. the compositional effects will be important in terms of age and ethnic distribution. if you doubt that second point, just look at what's happened in five years. one of the papers drew attention to the fact that in auckland, half the growth in the population numbers there came from natural growth rates, the birth rate and the like, and half from international migration flows. wellington, it was all natural so wellington is going to remain basically european. if these trends continue, they will have a profound impact on our internal structures of cities and politics, and of course there is the horrific thought that a third of new zealanders will live in auckland in the very short order.
the next point i want to raise is what does all of this mean to policy, because after all it's great to come to a conference like this, and learn alot of things that we perhaps hadn't even bothered thinking about, or even thought as being relevant to the things we do. but for someone in my position and the governments position, and for many of you in terms of your own communities, it all boils down to what does it mean in terms of policy? can we influence these things, should we?
well the first important point i think that i have picked up is that alot of these policies that we are talking about all interlock and they all interlock around people.
for too long, immigration policy has been in a little cell on its own, without too much reference to other government policies or indeed to other things going on in the community, and we have to rectify that. there's the whole issue about what james belich called "camouflage pluralism" - the honesty of understanding that maybe we're not that homogenious. we have to factor that in terms of our policy as well.
technology is going to have a profound impact as well. it will shrink us in terms of the world, and it will expand our horizons in terms of the world.
the issues about population pressures, the things that for the most part those of us in local and central government worry about, are the pressures of population on resources, on the environment and increasingly on political structures. we haven't talked much about those issues at this conference, but they are as real in terms of population policy as anything that we need to deal with.
the fact that we have seen a major change in the structure or the make up of the new zealand parliament as a result of mmp, is probably something that was long overdue. we may not like mmp as a political system, but it's got a much more representative group of new zealanders into the house, and that i imagine will continue as we go.
we heard about the changing population basis of our other competing nations. how the developed world will reduce in population over time and how the developing world will begin to assume more importance.
all that does is give vent i think to the importance of new zealand seeing its role much more closely aligned with asia and the developing rim in the pacific than perhaps with our historical countries in europe and the like.
we may be coping with a situation in the not distant future of falling population, that depends on what we do with immigration. but there's also the other issue that what we have learned this week in this two days, is that while those projections look to be pretty solid, there is a hazard in all of them. it may become fashionable again for people to have their children earlier, and more of them. it really is rather amazing how quickly that that can change. and i think we ought to be aware of the projection hazards that lie around us. think of the club of rome and the doom and gloom that they brought forward some years ago, or the fact that during the 1970's we were going to be running out of oil by about now. neither have happened. so we have to be sure that we understand that things around us will change. what it means for policy is that we must focus and keep refocussing on the changes that we look at.
let me touch quickly on immigration policy because in a way we haven't talked alot about it at this conference, and i think that is not such a bad thing.
there seems to have been from the papers that we've seen that there is little real arguement over the benefits of immigration. economic benefits may not be that large, and i think jim smiths paper showed that in the context of the u.s. , but there is no doubt that a mix of people, a different mix of new new zealanders has contributed enormously to us as a society. apart from anything else the food is a hell of alot better than it used to be.
one of the issues that was raised by ian pool was whether we should have an active or a passive immigration policy. now i freely admit that i'm not sure what that actually means in practice, and maybe we need to talk about that a little more.
it seems to me that one of the mistakes that we've made in policy in the past, is that we have fiddled with the target rate, the number of people who come under the controlled flow.
we have fiddled with that in a way that has really been counter productive. maybe we ought to be thinking in terms of a passive policy -that we simply say well, one and a half percent of the population on average is what we can cope with, we should do that year after year after year, reviewing it from time to time, but not try and use immigration policy to counteract the wild swings that we get in other aspects of permanent and long term flows. that's a matter certainly that we will need to deal with.
our chairman raised the question about should we worry about immigration. well, in a perfect world, in an objective world we wouldn't. we would simply let people go where they want to. but the reality is that some of us feel threatened by these flows and that the reality of government is that we do worry about it and we have to worry about it.
there's the issue of target or targeted. should we say one and a half percent of the population is our immigration target each year, or should we try a rather more mishy mashy approach, which is to make judgements about the people who we want in, and leave either the bureaucracy or some appeal authority or the poor old minister of immigration to make those decisions. that's clearly an issue. we have to be alive to the fact of what it is we can control. and i think, i'd just like to put this chart up briefly, to show you that maybe we don't actually have very much control at the end of the day.
the numbers of new zealanders who leave of their own free will and come back of their own free will varies for all sorts of reasons over which we have no control - nor frankly should we. but the real issue for policy is whether we try and counteract the variability of the bottom, the uncontrolled flow with controlled immigration policy. i doubt it, but it's an issue.
we've talked about the issue of how many migrants we should have each year, and i have to say a little disapointed that we didn't really discuss that as an issue at this conference. the question was put to john yeabsley -who has been the general manager of the immigration service - about what would he set as the target, or at least what process would he go through to define the target, and he sounded like a politician, he couldn't make up his mind. it is a very difficult issue, but one which we need more information and more consultation about.
the uncontrolled flows that we are faced with are as much to do with anything as with our relationship with australia. we have an open labour market there. new zealanders like australia. they are the single largest group in australia besides real australians. assuming there are any real australians.
there is the issue of asylum seekers. it's not a huge problem for us at the moment, but it is an emerging problem for many countries as organised crime attempts to move in to have people cross other countries borders against policy or against the wishes of that nation. it's an issue which is extraordinarily sensitive because ofits relationship with refugee policy, but frankly it is one that we have to come to grips with, and i've already made the point about integration with other policies.
some of the issues that are left for us to deal with. there's this whole issue about the mix between economic and social migration. somewhat controversial at the moment, perhaps unhelpfully so, but it is an issue that we will have to grapple with because when government is in a position of having to decide who is the family that obtains approval to come to new zealand with perhaps an earlier economic migrant, we have to draw a line around a definition of family. and that differs depending on where you come from. the nuclear family for a european tends to be much smaller than the family of many pacific islanders or somali's and that is a clear difficult issue that very much controls how much control we have over flows.
i've talked about the refugee situation. we have one of the most generous policies in the world, and i don't know whether the representative from the unhcr is here, but would like to thank him for the generous comments that the unhcr have made about new zealands policy. it's not this coalition governments policy at all. it is a new zealand policy that is subscribed to by new zealanders over many years now.
one of the things that comes out of this conference is also how we better inform public opinion about what is happening.
this conference is a start, but only a start. the three hundred or so of us here will be better informed when we go away, but depending on the role that the media plays in this, how many other new zealanders are going to really come to grips with the changes that are, we have seen and which will profoundly impact on us.
there's no doubt that we must do better with settlement policies for migrants coming to new zealand. we are weak in that area, it's not just information, but it's about ensuring that the new zealand support groups, the new zealand communities of those migrants are involved in the process as well.
there is the whole issue about english language and we didn't again talk about that very much, but i have to say it is a rather vexed issue. there are many at this conference who would say, lets get rid of the english langage test. we will be able to attract many more migrants if we do that. but unfortunately, some of the information that has been provided to this conference, based on research, shows that those people who don't have adequate english language skills end up by being on the wrong end of the economic system. so there is a balance there that we have to get right.
the whole issue about matching economic migrants with jobs, and the most clear example of course is the doctors who were let in under the pre october 1995 policy, came without any guarantee of a job, or indeed any guarantee of registration. that was a clear failure of government policy and we must rectify it, or at least ensure that it doesn't happen again in the future.
what have we acheived at the conference? i'm posing these as a series of questions.
do we have a better understanding of where we are now? do we have a better understanding of where we are in the future? do we have idea of what information we need and what new research priorities there should be in understanding ourselves? i invite the university research teams to go away and give us the guidance and the leadership in that area.
this conference i think has been important for gathered diversity in it. it must be the first time that we have ever gathered such a diverse array of people together representing new new zealand. i think the fact we've been able to have this conference, with good humour, helped by our chairman and the good humour of many of you here, says alot for the strength of our society now.
will we lose timidity in discussing these issues? well that's in your hands, as much as it is in anyone elses. we will be going away after this conference and looking at the things we need to do and change in policy, deciding on the things that we can change and the things that we can't. is there any point in having a population policy when the only thing you can influence for all intents and purposes, is immigration policy?
the things that will shape our population composition and structure have largely already happened. we need to understand the gaps in our knowledge, and i think there were some inklings of that coming through in the papers. and it seems to me that we must have a better immigration policy reflecting the desires of each one of you as your particular migrant group settle in new zealand.
i want to end an inspirational speech that sir tipene o'regan gave a couple of hours ago.
he talked about the dreams of development. he was doing it around his own people, the ngai tahu, but the questions he raised really are no different than they should be for the rest of us.
he challenged us to answer the question, what are we not going to be, or what are we determined to be? and it seems to me that is an excellent tone to wind up this first new zealand population conference.