Two concrete pacts arose from the Australia-New Zealand leaders’ summit, held in Queenstown, over the last weekend. The first outlined plans to lower data roaming rates between the two nations. The second, more controversial, announcement was New Zealand’s agreement to take 150 refugees from Australia every year. The two leaders also discussed the collection of each other’s student loan debts, co-operation on the fight again cyber-attacks; and the building of an Australian monument in Wellington.
The lower data roaming rates will hardly garner any complaint from the majority of the nation, after all, who would say no to cheaper phone calls? The real talking point of this summit is the deal they came out with about New Zealand taking Australian refugees. The last time we took in refugees from our friends across the ditch was in2001, accepting 131 refugees from the Tampa. Since then however, 250 of their relatives have settled in New Zealand. Unlike this one time deal, we have an entrenched policy of sharing Australia boat people problem. In practical terms, this means we have to take 150 people who have been approved as genuine refugees either after landing in Australia, or being picked up in the middle of the ocean on their boats. The million dollar question, literally, is, why are we doing it? What’s in it for us?
In essence it really all comes down to classic political plays. New Zealand needs its $600 million in student loan debt collected from those who have settled in Australia, and the latter has been on our back about helping out with refugees for years. Quid pro quo.
Key gave two main reasons for his acceptance; the intelligence that can be gathered from Australia on asylum seekers, and the acknowledgement that some of those that were picked up in Aussie waters were indeed on their way to our fair nation. What Key is really trying to get at here is that this new policy, in essence, can be seen as a long term insurance policy. In the event that mass arrival – boat people who managed to make it past all the check points and processing centres set up in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, bypass Australia and manage to make their way into New Zealand – our mates on the other side of the Tasman could help us out.
Even as an insurance policy, however, does it really make up for the fact that we may be receiving 150 refugees each year? As Peter Dunne pointed out, these would be the refugees that Australia doesn’t want, the ones left over after they have cherry picked from the PNG and Nauru centres. There is no specification on how the refugees will be allocated, nor is there a criteria for the same.
Another aspect that is worrying about the deal is that though New Zealand has committed to take on 750 refugees annually this includes the 150 from Australia. The refugees who have gone through the proper channels will be put on hold while we fill the quota from Australia. Yes, it can be argued that while we take 150 from Australia, wea re still accepting 600 more annually; the150 however, could have been filled by those who followed the letter and went by the book in wanted to seek asylum in New Zealand. This sends the message that if you hop on a boat and make it to Australia, or New Zealand for that matter, you will be accepted as a refugee as we won’t really know what to do with you. Not the best message to send out.
$600 million may be enough of an incentive to agree to such a deal, but what about in the long run, when the relatives of these refugees come and settle in New Zealand? Don’t get me wrong, I am all for immigrants and emigrants, I believe a nation can only grow and develop successfully with a range of different backgrounds and minds, but to take advantage of the fact Australasia was kind enough to accept boat people? That is taking things too far.
Is this insurance policy, and the $600million, really enough for Key? Apparently it is, but what about the people who have struggled with applications to make their way here. Is it fair to them? I don’t think so