Welcome In, Hard-line OutForeign Affairs and Trade
Fifteen years ago, when I first became an MP, the best advice an experienced politician could give you was to learn all about telephone connections.
It may sound strange now, but 15 years ago MPs used to return to Wellington from their electorates and complain to one another about how they had spent all Friday trying to get the old Post Office to connect their constituents' to the phone system.
It's sad to say, but the best advice for a new MP now is to learn all about immigration.
We are visited by people who seem to be perfectly reasonable, contributing members of society who can't get residency.
I'll give you an example from my own experience.
There was a Korean man who was earning a living providing golf lessons to tourists.
As far as I know, he was earning enough from this line of work to be fully self-sufficient.
But, for some reason, he couldn't get residency and was asked to leave the country.
I was not happy.
From a personal point of view, it seemed unfair.
From an economic point of view, it would mean a local business - the golf driving range - would lose one of its competitive advantages, a Korean speaking coach.
It would mean that we'd risk losing his experience in developing two driving ranges.
Today, this gentleman's work permit has been extended. But he is still unable to obtain residency, primarily because his qualifications aren't recognised.
These kinds of experiences create the risk that a new Associate Minister of Immigration thinks he or she knows all about the portfolio from day one.
It's very important for me to watch that, and listen to you.
But before we have that conversation today, I'd like to outline in broad terms my perspective on immigration - where I'm coming from.
As well as my responsibilities as an MP, I've come across immigration issues in my portfolio work in trade, tourism and finance.
My job is to help maximise New Zealand's foreign exchange earnings through the sale of goods, services, education courses and holidays.
And it's also strongly about helping to attract investment to New Zealand.
Immigration issues arise in all these areas all the time.
It's why the Prime Minister and the Minister of Immigration have given me responsibility for:
International Access and Processing,
policy development to enhance New Zealand as a migrant destination,
improving immigration services in low volume markets such as Germany, Latin America and Korea; and
the further development of visa waiver agreements and working holiday schemes.
With that background, I've been thinking of a slogan that sums up my attitude to immigration policy.
"Welcome In, Hard-line out" sums it up best.
As a general principle, I believe we should welcome immigration - to make it as easy as possible for tourists, students and businesspeople to visit New Zealand.
I believe it should be as easy as possible for people who will add value to our economy to settle here.
At the same time, I believe that if people overstay, break our laws or turn out to have given false declarations to enter New Zealand, we should take a hard-line and ensure that we do kick them out.
Welcome in, hard-line out.
It is, of course, only a slogan, with all the limitations that implies.
I'm in no hurry, for example, to consider visa free access for "tourists", "students" and "businesspeople" from Iraq.
New Zealand residency or citizenship is an honour that shouldn't just be given away.
And people shouldn't simply be thrown out of New Zealand without natural justice being applied.
But "welcome in, hard-line out" sums up my gut feeling about immigration and will tend to guide my thinking.
I'll want good reasons why it shouldn't apply in particular instances, rather than the other way round.
I see immigration as being about New Zealand's economic development.
In my view, the New Zealand Immigration Service, as a government agency, should be positioned alongside the Treasury, the Ministry of Commerce, MAF and so forth - an economic development agency.
But, in the past, immigration has probably been seen by politicians and the public as more closely aligned to Customs and the MAF Regulatory Authority.
Customs keeps the drugs out. MAF RA keeps foot and mouth out. Immigration keeps people out.
It's why - ironically for a nation of immigrants - that New Zealand's immigration history has large elements of disgrace.
When times have been good we've seen immigration as a source of cheap labour, and then blamed immigrants for our problems when times have turned sour.
We welcomed immigrants in the 1860s and 1870s.
Then, in 1881, parliament passed the racist Immigrants Restriction Act, to keep out Chinese.
During the 1930s Depression we curtailed immigration, at a time when smart, innovative people may well have helped us recover.
In the 1960s, when times were good, we saw Pacific people as workers to do jobs we didn't want to do ourselves.
In the 1970s, we re-paid them with the dawn raids.
After New Zealand introduced a non-discriminatory immigration policy in the mid-1980s, people from Asia came to New Zealand.
But, in the mid-1990s, a populist politician used them as scapegoats to increase his share of the vote.
The frightening thing is not so much that that politician did that.
It's that his research into public attitudes probably told him it would work.
It's not a history to be proud of.
As a small defence, I guess we can say xenophobia and racism have been part of the histories of most countries, and we haven't been the worst.
We need to be aware, though, of how dangerous those attitudes are - where they can lead.
In the last 15 years, though, more and more New Zealanders have started to see immigration in a different light.
It's not about getting in low-skilled people to do jobs we don't want to do.
It's about getting in high-skilled people to add greater value to our economy.
It's not about us being two small isolated islands at the edge of the earth.
It's about us being integrated into a much more globalised world.
It is very important that we clearly explain the need for a more liberal approach to immigration to a still sceptical public.
Those of us who would previously have been seen as coming from the right of the political spectrum celebrated the death of socialism at the end of last decade.
But traditional capitalism faces its challenges too.
The old fashioned capitalist no longer has the power that he - and it was a he - had in the past.
The ownership of land or a factory was what drove wealth.
These forms of capital were fixed in a particular place.
But, already, human capital has overtaken traditional capital in terms of economic importance, and that trend will only accelerate.
And human capital is mobile.
It cannot be captured by a country in the same way, obviously, that New Zealand's farmland can be captured by New Zealand.
People who can create wealth can live and work anywhere they want.
For New Zealand's economy to grow in the 21st Century, they have to live and work here.
It applies equally to highly skilled New Zealanders remaining in New Zealand, and to other highly skilled people wanting to move here.
Wherever highly skilled, creative people are born, they are citizens of the world and they act as such.
We need their knowledge.
We need their skills.
We need their creativity.
We need their new ideas.
And it's also good if they also bring investment funds with them.
If we don't recognise that, then we risk becoming a very closed-minded, insular country.
We risk, in a sense, "group-think".
We restrict ourselves to people with similar backgrounds and from a similar culture.
We risk those things no matter how highly educated and skilled New Zealanders become themselves.
It's not a recipe for competing with the world in export markets and winning.
It can only lead to slow but sure decline in our living standards.
These issues are not my direct responsibility as Associate Minister of Immigration, but I have some responsibility for them as a member of Cabinet.
And it concerns the Cabinet that the number of business migrants has fallen from 2,396 in 1995/96 to just 258 in 1998/99.
It is something the Minister of Immigration moved to address through new policy initiatives announced in October last year, and we're already seeing the results.
I'm advised that applications for the new business migrant categories are already four times higher than projected, and I expect that this year, inward business migration will trend up sharply.
In my specialist areas within the portfolio, I'm working to expand visa free access for short-term visits.
In the last year or so, we've given visa free status to Argentina, Bahrain, Brazil, Chile, Israel, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Uruguay and some passport holders in Hong Kong, China.
We're down to smaller economies now, and this year we're considering nine with a combined population greater than the UK and Ireland.
It's also my job to improve our immigration processing services offshore.
We've put extra resources into Shanghai, Beijing, Jakarta and Washington.
There'll be new offices in Moscow and Pretoria next year, and I'm also working on Delhi.
In countries where there are good reasons to continue to require visitors to obtain visas, we have to make sure we're efficient and fast.
That also applies to people wanting residency.
People are going to be turned down, but we shouldn't muck them around.
And if people are going to add value to our country, let's get them here as quickly as possible, and not put them off with bureaucratic delays.
These are all issues being considered with urgency in Wellington.
They're part of the work of the new External Linkages Team in developing our "New Zealand Inc" policies further.
It's all about positioning immigration as part of our economic development strategy.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I said at the outset that any MP becoming an Associate Minister of Immigration risked thinking they knew it all, as a result of their experiences in their electorates.
I also claimed to be aware of that risk.
I need to know from you how you think "Welcome in, Hard-line out" could be applied as a principle for my work.
I need to know how you believe we can build greater public support for a pro-active immigration policy.
I need to know from you where you believe the Government and the Immigration Service are doing well.
More importantly, I need to know where we need to improve - what you believe our priorities should be.
I'm less interested in speaking at you than in having a conversation with you.
Let's have that conversation today.