The PM Interview

The PM Interview

Vote for us for a open, diverse and accepting New Zealand: John Key


What he said:

  • Migration has economic benefits for New Zealand.
  • Labour is getting anti-migration because of political desperation.
  • Winston Peters had always been anti-migrants.
  • New Zealanders won't believe the anti-migration message coming from Labour.
  • Migrants should also exercise their democratic right to vote.
  • National is the only political party that can ensure New Zealand's continuation as a open, diverse and accepting country.
  • New Zealand is a country of migration. My mother was Austrian. My father was English. We are a country that has always welcomed people.
  • We can do more to help migrants culturally adapt in New Zealand.
  • There's been tidying up of some of the visas of Indian students but the trajectory of the number of people coming to New Zealand is rising.
  • Dairy workers from the Philippines are doing a magnificient job.

Prime Minister John Key was in Christchurch recently, when our editor Gaurav Sharma sat down with him for a chat on various migrant issues that New Zealand is currently facing. Following are the excerpts:

Prime Minister, do you think migration has economic benefits for New Zealand?

PM: It's not the matter of what I think. I know that to be the case. If we didn't have migration in New Zealand, we would have had population decline. And countries with population decline, really struggle to pay for all the things that their existing population wants. That's the first thing.

Secondly, we get economic growth as a result of it. Because instead of population decline, our population is increasing, which brings economic benefits.

But also when migrants come to New Zealand, they bring skills, they bring capital, they bring the right attitude, they bring diversity of culture, they bring a different perspective sometimes in the way we view things.

So migration benefits everything ranging from making our food better, to the sorts of celebrations, which makes life in New Zealand very interesting.

If you know that migration has such huge benefits to New Zealand, do you think your government is pushing this message aggressively?

PM: Yes, I do think we're putting this point across. If you look at the parliamentary make up at the moment, you always had Winston Peters being anti-migrants. Increasingly, and disappointingly, Labour has been moving more in that space. It's really surprising because Labour historically had been a political party that had supported migration quite heavily. So it's been quite a change we have noticed in Labour in the last three or four years.

I think it's their political desperation, more than actually fundamentally believing in anti-migration.

Do you think the opposition doesn't have its pulse on the economic realities of the country?

PM: I think their polling is so bad and they are desperate to get their numbers up. And they think by pushing the anti-migration message, they might get more votes and support.

I don't think they will.

Because firstly, I don't think New Zealanders will believe it.

Secondly, they wouldn't believe it from Labour.

And the third thing is that there is a big migrant voting population base. So New Zealand is home to over a quarter million Chinese, 160 thousand Indians, who during elections will also use their democratic right to vote.

Now, let's come to the issues that migrants face. One of the biggest issue is of international students. They being cheated by agents, not getting proper jobs. There is huge under-employment. Your Government came up with a new Code regulating the agents recently. What do you think about that?

PM: Firstly, export education is effectively foreign students coming to New Zealand across the range of different parts of the education sector. Whether it is in schools, for tertiary qualifications in colleges, or in private training establishments.

They all add to about $2.3 billion worth of economic activity. So they employ lot of people, they provide lot of opportunities, they are great for economic growth.

I think the challenge here is always to make sure that we deliver for the students what they want. So that they are not getting ripped off by either poor providers, or not getting the qualifications that they want.

And equally New Zealand needs to know that the students qualifications are accurate. Their visas are alright. They can honour their commitments.

So look, there's been tidying up of some of the visas of Indian students. But the trajectory of the number of people coming to New Zealand is rising.

Similar thing [visa issues] happened with the dairy workers coming to New Zealand from the Philippines?

PM: Yes. So what happened there was that we believe that one rouge agent misrepresented the skill level of some individual Filipino workers.

So while we were well within our legal rights to throw those workers out, we decided otherwise.

Because even if the workers didn't have the qualifications, it was really around experience of what they said they had.

On farm they were doing a magnificent job.

Moreover, we don't believe that the individual people misrepresented the case. We think that the agency did.

That's why the Government chose the path, in most of the cases, of allowing those workers to stay.

They are a very important part of the dairy sector in New Zealand. Those are great workers.

I think sometimes practising things off is more important than having a piece of paper.

Your Government decided that people should come to the regions. You started giving more points when they apply for residency. But when you come to the South Island, you find it not to be so diverse. Like you have lots of churches, but you don't have lots of temples and mosques. Does the Government know that migrants find it difficult to culturally adapt in the South Island?

PM: When we look at the survey data of experience of migrants that come to New Zealand, a vast overwhelming bulk have had a good experience of fitting in.

The latest data put that figure to about 84 percent, who have indicated that they are having a good experience in New Zealand. 16 percent say they ain't.

But, you would always get a group of people who would feel their experience was a bit overwhelming, or they just get a bad experience.

To help migrants integrate more, do you think your Government can sponsor multicultural festivals in the regions? Maybe grant money to community groups to build their places of worship? Things like that.

PM: See, the truth is that the South Island always had a lot more homogeneous pakeha population. Even the maori population is of much lower numbers in the South Island.

So you are absolutely right. We can do more.

Making sure that the Diwali festival, or the Lantern festival, all those things are, and should keep happening.

People in New Zealand see that they are actually great celebrations, full of fun.

People are not intimidated by them, rather they actually enjoy them.

If you look at Auckland. I live there most of the time when I am not in Wellington. And things like the Lantern festival. My son goes to the Lantern festival in Auckland. And he doesn't go to half the other things organised by the Auckland Council.

He goes because the food is good. He has lots of fun. Wanders around, looks at the lanterns; basically he enjoys it.

One thing I would like to say to migrants is that everywhere in the world migration has its challenges.

If you go to Singapore, there is a push back to other Chinese migrants coming to Singapore.

There's always those natural concerns.

But over time, New Zealand is a country of migration. My mother was Austrian. My father was English. We are a country that has always welcomed people.

And I think we do a massive disservice to New Zealand if we start turning our back on people.

Of course, we have to make sure that the people that come can add to our country.

Either because they are young, they are hard workers, they got qualifications, whatever that might be.

We shouldn't listen to the small minority who oppose migration.

We have to listen to the large majority, many of whom are silent, who would say that our country is better served by migration.

And yes, we have to ensure that people who come fit in.

If you look at what is happening in places like France. One of the reasons they have got issues is that they have ghettoised people. They haven't integrated people into their communities.

If you do that, you will get disaffected young people.

So we have to do a good job of making sure that people get jobs, get houses, get integrated into schools, and their families and the next generation would always be better equipped to cope as Kiwis who have grown up in our system.

Finally, as the Prime Minister of New Zealand, what's your message to all potential migrants and migrants who are already here?

PM: The simple message is - if I can be blunt - if migrants want to see continuation of a open, diverse, accepting country, I think our government is the only political party which voices that message.

That's why it's important that when we have elections, migrants come out and support us.

Because a lot of migrants don't vote. In this country, if you do vote, it's anonymous. No one knows.

Democracy is something that is treasured in New Zealand. We have one of the longest unbroken democracies in the world. And I think all migrants should embrace it.

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Enlightened companies: A bit of United Nations at Hellers

Enlightened companies: A bit of United Nations at Hellers