The political scene in New Zealand is set to quieten soon as the nation slowly trundles into the summer holiday period, giving a respite to politicians, and to some extent, also to the members of public, who constantly receive, often loud and raucous noises around some of the most compelling issues that our society faces.

There was a lot happening inside the debating chambers of New Zealand parliament with the coalition government and the main opposition party constantly at loggerheads on important issues of economy, trade, business confidence, regional development, tougher punishment and criminal justice system, child poverty reduction and many more.

The Indian Weekender editorial team has picked up four issues that mattered most to the Kiwi-Indian community.

Immigration

Immigration is at the heart of the Kiwi-Indian community and therefore any changes have the potential to make or break the lives of many in the community. This year in mid-June the government announced first set of major changes whereby removing the requirement of post-study work visa to be supported by a particular employer. Originally this visa was introduced to allow students to get relevant work experience in New Zealand, with the hope that they will be attractive to New Zealand employers, and giving a pathway to a residence for skilled migrant workers who trained in New Zealand. However, many unscrupulous employers started exploiting migrant workers, especially international students. By a single stroke, the government took away the employer assisted post-study work visa, and instead of giving all students a universal, open three-year work visa.

Given the significance of immigration for the Kiwi-Indian community, every change in policy creates more confusion than clarity as many international students currently on three-year work visa started to worry how it will impact on their long-term and more cherished goal of residency in NZ. Either way, this news was of great significance for the Kiwi-Indian community.

Criminal Justice Reforms and the demand for tougher punishment

After immigration, if there is one single issue that matters most to the Kiwi-Indian community is community-safety, law and order and the criminal justice system. In recent years, there has been an unprecedented rise in the incidences of aggravated robberies, assaults, and attacks and theft of property, particularly corner dairies, liquor stores and other small businesses outlets. The Kiwi-Indian community, like many other migrant communities, has found itself at the forefront of attacks at workplaces and homes, even if not-on-purpose and just by coincidence, but these rising attacks hugely affect the psyche and the well-being of the community. This explains why the idea of tougher punishment for offenders of the crime of victimisation often finds resonance with the community – a fact not much appreciated by many social crusaders who do not see tougher punishments doing any good for anyone.

This year, Justice Minister Andrew Little expressed forceful suggestions multiple times that the country has to move away from tougher penalties, including calling for a not-so-successful Criminal Justice Summit to build momentum in support of the new narrative.

However, on many occasions, including on the three strikes law and the recently submitted petition to parliament calling for tougher sentences, which were signed by about 150,000 people, the government was apprised about the general reception of the idea among the Kiwi public. The idea that there has to be tougher punishment for deterring others to travel the same path and also for inducing accountability of one’s action is not yet fully discarded.

The issue and any development on the issue is of much significance for the Kiwi-Indian community.  

Simon Bridges – Jamie-Lee Ross Fiasco

Political observers, key stakeholders, leaders and members of the Kiwi-Indian community were woken from their heavenly slumber in mid-October amidst the ongoing drama in the national political scene when they found their community catapulted into the limelight after the released private conversation between National Party leader Simon Bridges and now disgraced MP Jamie Lee-Ross.

What followed was an intense phase of expression of anger, apology, and clarifications from Mr Bridges. Indeed, Mr Bridges had himself publically acknowledged that phase as the lowest point of 2018, but the fact that he managed to emerge from the political crisis with least damage and his leadership unchallenged is no less than a miracle.

Regardless of the consequences of the political crisis, and subsequent intense follow-up action, undoubtedly the Kiwi-Indian community found itself, almost reluctantly amidst centre of the action at the national political scene.

KiwiBuild – affordable or just castles in the air?

The assertion that Kiwibuild – the current government’s flagship policy– was one of the major political issues that mattered most to the Kiwi-Indian community, might be slightly debatable. However, what is most certain is that Kiwibuild managed to create high decibel noises throughout the year. While the opposition and several commentators of this key housing policy with stated ambitions of building 100,000 houses in the next decade, so as to address the pressing housing crisis facing the country, continued to make its mockery, the Housing Minister and the government continued to blow the trumpet about what this policy was able to achieve this year and could eventually achieve in the future. Regardless of the intensity of the contest around KiwiBuild, it cannot be denied that like everywhere else in New Zealand there was seemingly much interest in the prospect of availability of affordable houses in an upwardly mobile housing market. It’s another matter that said interest had yet to translate into a tangible demand from eligible first home-buyers, thus giving ammunition to the opposition and the critics of the scheme. Also, the definition of “affordable” remained undecided in the current housing market. Despite all the drama, it is fair to say that Kiwibuild was probably the only major policy contested so severely in parliament and outside that managed to gain the attention of Kiwi-Indian community without any tangible effects on their fortunes yet.