National, Labour, NZ First, and Greens debate on exploitation, discrimination, immigration, and law and order

- the occasion was a Political Parties Forum, organised by the Surinder Tandon-led Christchurch Multicultural Council, where National's Nicky Wagner, Labour's Ruth Dyson, New Zealand First's Mahesh Bindra, and Green's Chrys Horn put forward their parties respective views on issues concerning the country's migrant community

The gloves are off. Parties have switched to election mode. It's game on!

National's Nicky Wagner, who is the minister supporting Greater Christchurch Regeneration, believes that migrants have played a role in New Zealand's robust economy. She stresses hers is the only party supporting immigration while all the others are trying to shut the gates down. “While we do need more ethnic communities’ representation in our public services, the numbers have improved over the last few years, which is a good sign. Also, acknowledging that law and order is an important issue for the migrant community, the Government has announced increase in front-line police numbers recently,” she adds.  

Labour's Ruth Dyson believes National's policies have led to widespread exploitation of migrant workers. Her party, she says, will cap immigration numbers and close down those private training establishments that run sham courses and give international students false hopes of residency. “Migrants often work at levels way below their qualifications. There is institutional racism in New Zealand, obviously in the police and the judiciary. But I think it's more widespread than that. And it continues because while we have excellent human rights legislation, it's not used enough,” she adds.    

New Zealand First's List MP Mahesh Bindra doesn't think some remarks made by his leader Winston Peters may sometimes reinforce his party's perception of being “anti-immigration” within ethnic communities. He blames the media squarely for creating and feeding that perception. “Neither my leader nor my party are either racist or anti-migrants. We just want what's best for all New Zealanders. While we have welcomed more and more migrants in this country, the infrastructure has failed to keep up. That's where the problem is,” he adds.  

Green's Chrys Horn, who is also an electorate candidate from Selwyn and openly admits she is not very keen on going into the Parliament, comes up with some startling statistics.

“While only five per cent of our work force is migrant, over one-third of all worker exploitation cases that MBIE deals with, concern migrant workers. If you have a non-pakeha surname in New Zealand, you have 50 per cent less chance of getting an interview call. So there's no doubt that we have structural discrimination in New Zealand. That's why Greens are advocating 'blind' CVs to eliminate ethnicity and gender bias,” she adds.     

The above pretty much sums up what was said at the Forum; the takeaways from which were:

All four political parties agree that migrants in New Zealand face discrimination and exploitation, whether in getting jobs or while in jobs. They differ in what needs to be done about it.

All four agree that New Zealand needs immigration. How much and what kind, are their points of difference.

And finally, all agree that law and order in New Zealand needs to improve. Whether and how to get tough on offenders, and how much police numbers to increase, is the debate.   

National, obviously, being in government for the past nine years has already shown its cards. While the rest three opposition parties have made policy announcements and are wanting for their chance to reveal their cards.  

One thing is clear though. Whosoever thought that this would be a plain bland election till December last year when Sir John Key was still the Prime Minister, couldn’t have been more wrong.