Willing to take the leadership in preventing co-ethnic exploitation of migrants: Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, National List MP
Can you tell us a little bit about your New Zealand story?
Bakshi: I came to New Zealand in 2001. My family migrated with me. Politics was in the blood so I was looking to join a political party. I went around and shopped, to see which is the most appropriate party for me. After evaluating I found that National Party was very close to what my thoughts were. Their policies were very supportive of businesses, and family values were very important to the members of the National Party. I thought that it is more appropriate for me to join National Party than any other party. Lots of people had suggested to me that I should join the Labour Party. But I felt that I am more at home at National than Labour and that’s how the journey started.
Were your initial years also full of struggles, like most migrants?
Bakshi: Definitely, it takes a while before you settle down. And it was a big ask for my family to come and there were many challenges. As you know that back home in India we get a lot of support at home whereas it was missing here. So we were just four of us, me, my wife and two boys and there were challenges, but we settled down. It took my wife almost four years to settle down in New Zealand and once she did, she said no way, we’re not going anywhere else.
Was that about getting jobs? Gainful employment?
Bakshi: No it was not the job, it was the family. So she went back four times during those initial four years and didn’t want to come back. Because we were a joint family, there were 16 people at home and suddenly we were just the four of us. So that was a big challenge for her. Our boys were quite young, 8 and 11, so they got into the system very quickly because they used to go to the school and learnt a lot, but it took a while for my wife.
Initially, to be very frank, she went into depression also, so the doctor rather suggested, that she should start working. In her life she had never worked, but where she started working, she was in a very good place. They were so flexible and said that we can understand from where you’re coming, we will give you the opportunity and she worked there for almost 14 years and now recently she has left the job.
Was shifting to Auckland made things a bit easy for you, as it already had a substantial Indian population?
Bakshi: I visited New Zealand in 1997 for a holiday and we were here for three weeks. I went around the whole country at that time and saw a lot of places, and I made up my mind that if ever I migrate from India it will be to New Zealand and that will be Auckland.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey as a MP in New Zealand Parliament?
Bakshi: It is a real honour and pride for me that I am representing the Indian community and I was the first Indian to get into the parliament. One thing which I would like to acknowledge is that National Party has always looked after the migrants. The first Asian MP was given by National party, not by Labour party. But the perception has been that the Labour Party looked after migrants, but that’s not true. It is always National party that has looked after the migrants. First Indian MP, first Korean MP, first Chinese MP - they all have been given by National party not by Labour party. So I want to clarify that my journey in National party has been very smooth and I have been supported by the leadership from the day one. They wanted a true representative of each community to be part of the caucus so that we can contribute to the caucus, the issues which are related to the migrants.
Coming to the issues concerning the Indian community, there has been some criticism of you on your stand on the deportation of Indian students. You want to clarify that?
Bakshi: Look, here I would like to clarify one thing that we have been trying to assist them as much as we can. I offered twice that come and sit with me, and let’s discuss, without getting their privacy waiver, I could not see their file. I did talk to one of their leaders that my office is open, make an appointment, come and see me. But nobody approached me. So some political advantage is being taken by the unions to make sure that they get publicity out of it. What happens when these boys went to the Church for support? Why didn’t they come up and support them? I can assure you that Immigration has taken all things into consideration before deciding that they should be sent back. So I am sure and the Minister has already given the statement that all avenues were explored. And I am pretty sure that Minister Michael Woodhouse is a person who believes in fairness and no decision has been made without considering all the options and we are not going to accept any fraudulent document, that is for sure. We want to ensure that people who believe in true and faithful disclosure of their things should be living in New Zealand.
So do you think that the students were also responsible as they had signed the documents?
Bakshi: Exactly, they have to do the due diligence before they sign any document. If somebody has done something wrong, ultimately the responsibility comes to the person who has signed it. One more thing I would like to clarify over here is that the misconception is that they were not given the opportunity. They have been given the opportunity to complete their courses before they were sent back. So it is important they understand that they could have been deported six months ago but they were given the opportunity to complete the course and get their diploma or degree whatever it is.
What about the PTEs which enrolled them? In other words, what measures do you think are needed so that these situations don't arise in future?
Bakshi: One thing you will appreciate that Kiwis believe in people. On that thing, the immigration decided, instead of stopping the students from coming to New Zealand, they gave them that authority that you decide. If you think the student is capable of English language, no need of IELTS, you endorse it we’ll get it.
Now the immigration and education New Zealand has put the onus on the PTEs that if anything happens or any wrong information is provided to the students by the agent then the responsibility comes to PTEs so their license can be cancelled if that happens. The new code of conduct is that they are responsible for everything. So with every mistake you learn something. The lesson has been learnt. The immigration is making sure the documents are thoroughly checked before any visa is issued. And PTEs are being held responsible for any misconduct by their agents.
New Zealand is banking a lot on the foreign students. Education export is one of our major earners. We don't want New Zealand to get a bad reputation. It is not only New Zealand, Canada, England and America have also gone through this thing in India. And who is suffering? The genuine students who want to come and get quality education, they are suffering.
What's your stand on co-ethnic exploitation of migrants? What do you think should the ethnic communities do to tackle this issue?
Bakshi: I totally agree with you. This is not acceptable to the government that anyone should be exploited, in particular, the migrants who are recent migrants. That is totally non acceptable to the government and minister has clarified this thing so many times. That’s why we have again issued some restrictions on and I think the law has been passed that anyone who exploits the migrants or students their business will be closed. They will face penalties. I will repeat the same thing I said earlier that from every incident we learn and we try to fix that and we will ensure that this thing is implemented strictly on every business owner.
The Government is taking some steps. But what about the ethnic community leaders? What do you have to say to them?
Bakshi: I think even the leadership in Auckland, I have talked to them. They are very against it and we will be conducting few meetings and we will be raising these issues to discuss with the community at large.
So you are encouraging community leaders to come out?
Not only in Auckland, but everywhere?
Bakshi: Everywhere. Anywhere this happens, we have to stand against those businesses and to the extent that we should not support them.
Are you taking a lead on this?
Bakshi: Yes, I have already talked to leaders in Auckland and they are supportive of this.
What about the South Island?
Bakshi: Definitely. I will be discussing that at some stage here as well.
Another important issue for migrants is law and order. Now, that you are assisting the Minister of Police, what do you plan to do to assure the migrant community in this regard?
Bakshi: This has been said by the PM as well as by the Minister of Police we are increasing the police numbers. PM made that very clear and announced that additional 1125 new police officers will be employed in the next four years. Extra budget of more than half a billion dollar have been allocated for this. We want to ensure that people feel safe at their home, at their business and every district is going to get additional police force. That will ensure the safety of the people is maintained.
If you remember couple of years ago we provided lot of additional modern tools to police officers so that they can save some time which they were wasting in productivity. So every police officer is saving almost half an hour on their 8 hour shift which means equivalent to 300 additional police officers were as employed in police with the saving of time.
So now these 880 front-line officers and out of those 20 liaison officers for the ethnic communities will play a very important role. They will be the ones going to the businesses or to the communities to ensure their concerns are being heard. And the police will ensure, as the PM said, that within 48 hours police will respond to every burglary. So we want to ensure that people are satisfied. We deployed additional 600 police officers when we formed the government in 2008. Now we are putting additional 1125. So I can assure you and your readers that the government is very focussed on it. And that’s the feedback, that’s the responsibility of ethnic MPs to take back to the caucus and discuss how the issues are to be solved.
So out of those 20 liaison officers, will Canterbury and South island get some as well?
Bakshi: Yes, not that only Auckland but every district is going to get. This is operational matter. The Commissioner will decide where he is going to deploy the people. We can't tell him. We are depending on the Commissioner. The expectation that the PM and the Minister of Police has with the commissioner is ensuring the safety of people and proper allocation of resources to all of New Zealand.
And do you think migrants need to be involved more in this regard as well? Like join neighbourhood patrols etc.
Bakshi: Definitely they have to get involved in the mainstream. It is not just neighbourhood watch, if somebody is good at swimming, they should go and help the life guards. They should go out to the police. They should go out in the hospitals. They should go out in the communities to help the people. Like when the earthquake happened in Christchurch, lot of Indians came up and supported the local community. Lot of temples came up with food parcels. Lot of food was collected, lot of things were collected from all over New Zealand. So that is very important.
I remember recently with the water infection in Hawkes Bay. Lot of businesses donated water to ensure there is ample of water available for drinking for people of Hawkes Bay. So these are the things. Awareness is coming but I think we have to emphasise this again and again that people should come on board, join the school boards, to contribute over there. Volunteering at St John’s, so many things can be done. So these are the things we expect our younger generation as well as the seniors should be doing. Contribute to the community in any way you can.