Election time is open season on immigration

by Daphna Whitmore

Scaremongering about immigration has traditionally been Winston Peters’ territory. Then Labour decided it wanted  a pieimagesce of the action in 2015 and its housing spokesman, Phil Twyford, announced a “tsunami of Chinese money” was heading to our shores. He claimed 60% of house sales in Auckland were to Chinese buyers and he knew this by picking out “Chinese-sounding names” from a list of house sales. Most of the people on Twyford’s list it turned out were New Zealand residents.

Labour now says it will ban foreign property speculators, not just ones with Chinese-sounding names. Well, that will be nice for local property speculators but it won’t help people on moderate or low incomes hoping to buy a house. What is more, it won’t make much of a dent in the speculators’ numbers as just three percent of house buyers were living abroad in 2016, according to Land Information. Labour’s tsunami was exposed as a crude dog-whistle to prejudices.

Labour tried to deny its campaign was anti-Chinese but as we pointed out on Redline at the time Twyford selected only Chinese-sounding names,  not other foreign-sounding names. There were no Irish, Indian or South African names bothering him, just Chinese. Anti-Chinese racism has a long history in the Labour Party especially in the first decade of the twentieth century when the White New Zealand immigration policy was being entrenched.

Xenophobes it turns out prefer Winston to be the flagbearer of exclusionary and racist policy. The racial profiling failed to resonate with voters or give Labour the poll boost they hoped for, so they toned down the rhetoric. Twyford however has not recanted or apologised, he just regrets it was “a less than masterful piece of political communication,” as he put it.

With Labour’s change of leader there was an opportunity to break with the scapegoating.  The tone is softer but the message is unchanged and Jacinda Ardern has confirmed that immigration cuts are still on the agenda. When pressed about the Chinese-sounding names saga Ardern said  she “didn’t feel comfortable about that”. She denied the campaign was racist and stated “If anyone felt that it was, then, of course we would apologise.” Rather than highlight her own discomfort Ardern should spare a thought for the feelings of the Chinese who are routinely subjected to this abuse by politicians. There was no forthright apology or change of direction from Ardern.

The Greens in contrast have taken a more self-critical look and have consciously moved away from their policy of an immigration cap. They acknowledged the harm their policy caused and apologised for pandering to anti-immigration racism.

Labour’s policy is to cut immigration “ensuring better targetting the skill shortage to get the migrant workers they need”. Essentially this means there is free movement of highly skilled people but low waged workers are trapped unable to get out of poverty, except temporarily as cheap seasonal workers. This plundering of skilled people from developing countries is carried out without the slightest embarrassment.

Labour, National, and capitalist parties in general see migrants as things to be used to meet the needs of business. Ardern is not fixated on numbers but fixated on meeting “the market need” she said in her August 15  Radio NZ interview.

This attitude towards migrants has consequences. Migration policies are creations of unjust societies and are mostly about controlling the movement of workers and keeping people out. They entrap workers in poverty, and give rise to people-smuggling and people dying at sea in overcrowded boats. It renders some workers with fewer rights than others, and divides people into legal and illegal, aliens and citizens. It forcibly separates families and dehumanises migrants.

While New Zealand doesn’t have detention centres (it would if it were not so far away and had more people arriving) it ruthlessly imposes deportations. Deportations are so commonplace that people forget national borders are artificial and relatively recent inventions. They ignore that these borders are often the result of wars and conquest, most within the past 500 years.

If we ourselves want the right to travel and the freedom to move;  and to work and live in other parts of the globe, we should reject the concept that a foreigner is less deserving of rights than a local.