Gordon Campbell on Labour’s anti-immigration gambit, and Israel

Calls for a crackdown on public money being wasted on low quality educational courses? That’s always a perennial topic in any election year. Back in 2005, it was National’s education spokesman – a guy called Bill English – who led the charge against the Clark government over the spending on low quality courses in twilight golf, self esteem training and the like at a time when the construction industry was said to be crying out for more funding for trades apprentices. Back then – over 12 years ago – the Labour government of the day promised to clean up the sector:

The [Labour] government has announced an overhaul of tertiary education in the wake of funding blowouts on courses considered to be of low educational value. Education Minister Trevor Mallard says funding will be shifted from low quality programmes, such as twilight golfing, into areas like apprenticeship training and adult education.

The crackdown comes after embarrassment over low quality courses. In some case polytechs simply signed up students and received public funding regardless of the quality of their training.

Now we’re in election year 2017, and it is Labour leader Andrew Little who is beating the drum this time about low quality education courses allegedly leading to poor immigration outcomes. Supermarket shelf stackers, and not twilight golfers, are today’s bugbears. So the political frame in which this issue is being put is the real point in any given election year. Typically, in Election Year 2005, National chose – only 12 months after Don Brash’s Orewa speech – to contrast the spending on low quality education with the amounts being spent on Te Wananga O Aotearoa ie, it was part of a thinly veiled appeal to race prejudice. This year, Andrew Little’s target is immigration – a handy scapegoat for Auckland’s social ills, from housing to road congestion. Blame the immigrants. Something has to be done about them.

It doesn’t seem to matter whether the circa 70,000 annual net immigration figure being bandied about is mainly comprised of New Zealanders returning home, or whether the ‘solutions’ suggested – cutting back on courses for baristas etc – will do much, if anything, to resolve this country’s major urban problems. Or whether the furore will do reputational and economic damage to New Zealand’s trade in export education, in excess of any headline savings made. Or whether an economy already running near to full capacity may actually need an influx of immigrant labour on its farms or as it heads into a construction boom, or whether an ageing population may need competent aged-care workers from abroad etc etc…

Evidently, Labour wants to branded itself with swing voters as an anti-immigration party making concerned noises about the festering irritations of living and working in Auckland. Some on the centre left will be aghast at this positioning of Andrew Little as Winston Lite. The targeting of international students seems particularly cynical, given the rumours about Shane Jones imminent re-entry to politics, under the New Zealand First banner.

Only three years ago, when international students came under fire during Election 2014, it was Jones who was targeting the international students. At the time, Labour’s top team – eg tertiary education spokesperson Grant Robertson – sought to distance itself from Jones’ attacks, while conversely Labour’s export education spokesperson Raymond Huo was claiming that Steven Joyce and the government hadn’t been trying hard enough to attract more of them:

Speaking at a debate at the University of Auckland last Thursday night, Jones said the emphasis on seeking enrolments from fee-paying students from Asia meant that New Zealand students were being disadvantaged…..Labour Spokesperson for Tertiary Education Grant Robertson expressed disagreement, telling Salient he thought Jones “went too far in his comments. We support international students coming to universities in New Zealand because we think they add much to our educational system,” Robertson said.

However, [Robertson] added that Labour was concerned that universities were “increasingly reliant on international students for revenue because of declining income from government. Chasing down more and more international students should not be such a big focus for universities.”

This comes in direct contradiction to comments made by Labour’s spokesperson for Export Education Raymond Huo. Huo attacked Minister for Tertiary Education Steven Joyce, saying he “needs to pick up his game” in attracting fee-paying international students. We must be proactive in capitalising on the opportunities that booming Asian economies has for attracting international students to study here,” Huo said.

In the recent past therefore, Labour has been all over the shop on the issue of whether fewer or more international students are a good or a bad thing. Currently, it seems that Labour is trying to pre-empt one of Jones’ pet issues on the eve of his return to the fray. It seems to be all about New Zealand First.

So what is the immigration situation? The headline figures can readily seem alarming. As Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse pointed out in an April 2017 speech, there was a net outflow of around 4,100 in the year to February 2012, and this has become a net inflow of 71,300 in the year to February 2017. The components of this net inflow? Some 37,000 are New Zealanders either returning home, or not leaving as in previous years. There are 21,000 additional working holiday visas, as part of our tourism boom, with many of these visitors finding work on farms and in orchards. There are also 7,000 more international student arrivals, and 3,000 more Australians moving here.

That accounts for 58,000 of the headline 71,300 net annual influx. How much of that is padding that can be readily targeted and stripped out of the equation? Not much. Of late, the government has been raising the points required for residency under the Essential Skills Programme, and is also proposing to lift (to $49,000) the annual pay level required in the jobs that such migrants fill.

There is an ongoing debate over whether these measures could well become self defeating – in that they may reduce this country’s attractiveness as a destination in the hotly competitive global market for skilled migrants. As mentioned, there is a related debate on how much migrant labour an economy that’s running at close to full capacity needs in order to be able to expand. At most, we’re talking about how best to fine tune a system with regard to 10-20,000 migrants sitting on the margins of the current policy settings. Obviously, an intake of that size is not the root cause of – or solution to Auckland’s problems with housing, or traffic congestion.

If this is ever going to be a useful exercise, Labour should be bringing to the table some detailed information on (a) what education providers it is talking about (b) which particular courses should be de-funded (c) what are the countries of origin of the students filling the courses of concern (d) what net savings to the export education sector will accrue from this campaign to cut student numbers, and how these savings have been costed and oh yeah… how will such a reduction do much at all to resolve the causes of inadequate housing provision and road congestion in Auckland. (Not many students buy houses or own cars.)

Finally, the claims that international students are seeking a back door path to citizenship are pretty regrettable. That’s not merely because the fees paid by such students are now a crucial part of the funding mix for our schools, polytechnics and universities. Over 80% of such students return home at the end of their training – and as alumni, they then very often function as valued informal ambassadors for New Zealand. Its also hard to see why Labour objects to people who have studied here (and who wish to emigrate) if they then receive bonus points towards residency and citizenship on the basis of such studies. Surely, it’s a good thing if the skilled people that we need have had prior experience of New Zealand society, and if we know more about them.

Ultimately, it is kind of depressing to see the party of Michael Joseph Savage – a migrant to this country – choosing to play the anti-immigration card in this fashion, and largely in order to score brownie points with the reactionary right.

Loss of backbone

Remember the good old days, when Murray McCully was running this country’s foreign policy? We used to be on the Security Council. We spent a lot of money in securing that post, and its finest fruit came last year when we co-sponsored a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s expansion of its settlements upon the Palestinian land available for a two state solution. In April, the new Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee began a craven back down, by making these idiotic comments:

Brownlee said on Wednesday the Security Council resolution passed last December had been “premature” and implied it should not have passed without Israel’s support.

He said on Radio New Zealand that the value of Security Council resolutions was in the “willingness of the parties who are having the resolution imposed upon them to accept what’s in it.”

Yep, the UN should always get states guilty of breaching its resolutions to agree to be censured before it censures them, and it should proceed to do so only with the permission of the rogue states concerned. What a moron. Now, our backdown is complete. We’ve apologised for the damage done to our relations with Israel, via us having the temerity to call on Israel to abide by UN resolutions.

The [Israeli] Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement on Tuesday saying that following discreet diplomatic contacts, Netanyahu and New Zealand’s Prime Minister Bill English spoke by phone a few days ago. As a result of that conversation, according to the PMO, English wrote a letter saying that he regretted “the damage done to Israel-New Zealand relations as a result of New Zealand proposing Resolution 2334 at the Security Council.”

In fact, it is well worth reading resolution 2334, if only to see that we have nothing to apologise for.

The resolution makes such cogent points as:

Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace;

And also:

4. Stresses that the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-State solution, and calls for affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse the negative trends on the ground that are imperilling the two-State solution….

5. Calls upon all States, bearing in mind paragraph 1 of this resolution, to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967… etc etc

Obvious questions – does New Zealand still support resolution 2334, or not? Or is this one of those bogus apologies were you regret that someone is upset but don’t regret the actions that caused the upset ? One wonders why we have felt it necessary to tie our desire to resume positive relations with Israel with any regrets at all about the passage of resolution 2334. Does this mean that we now support the expansion of Israeli settlements – and that we will abstain from condemning them in future ?

Turn Me Round, Again

Talking of immigrants… Nandi Rose Plunkett is the child of an Irish American father and an Indian immigrant mother from Uganda. Every time, she sings Half Waif’s “Turn Me Around” single live, she seems to radically re-interpret the song. (Half Waif began life as a side project of Pinegrove, whose Cardinal album was one of the best releases of 2016.)

Plus, on this song, Plunkett writes some great lyrics: as a sometime asthmatic, I totally identify with this wordplay:

I’m tired of my own breath
I’m tired of the sound that I make when
I respirate
…..I’m tired of my own breath
I’m tired of the sound that I make when
We separate