Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: A strange and contentious deal on refugees

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Prime minister John Key has agreed to take 150 of Australia's refugees. Photo / File
Prime minister John Key has agreed to take 150 of Australia's refugees. Photo / File

It's a deal that doesn't make sense, or none that John Key is willing to own up to. Our deal-making PM may, in the long term, get full value for his agreement to take 150 of Australia's refugees, but doing so at the expense of, literally, the life and death struggles of boat people is going to be a hard political sell.

Last year's claims of refugee 'queue jumping' and not wanting to encourage people smugglers have suddenly 'gone off the radar' says Gordon Campbell: 'this new intake would be allowed to displace those who would otherwise have come to New Zealand via our annual UN quota. To win brownie points with the Australians, we seem willing to undermine the UN quota system and boost the people smuggling industry - at the expense of those refugees waiting in UN camps in Africa and Asia to be vetted by the current UNHCR process' - see: On John Key's offer to take in Aussie boat people. Campbell thinks that, if New Zealand is a 'soft touch' then the problem starts at the top: 'Meeting a foreign leader or a foreign captain of industry just seems to make Key feel weak at the knees, every time'.

The Government's reversal of logic and principles is attacked by today's Dominion Post editorial: 'the real objection to Mr Key's policy is that it allows a fortunate minority to jump the queue... this means that 150 other refugees, typically rotting in wretched camps near some of the ghastliest places on earth, will not be able to come to New Zealand' - see: Lending a helping, but uneven, hand. The newspaper suggests, as a compassionate alternative, New Zealand should simply 'increase the overall refugee quota by 150, bringing it to 900'.

Critics of the new policy also include Amnesty International (see TV3's Amnesty International slams Key-Gillard refugee deal) and former National Party Immigration Minister Aussie Malcolm: 'Australia and Australia alone stands out from the rest of the world with arguments about queue jumpers and all sorts of populist jargon that actually hides racism, and now New Zealand has joined Australia it's a tragedy' - see Kieran Campbell's Former MP: Immigration deal 'a tragedy'.

The deal favours Australia says TV3 political editor Patrick Gower, and 'is largely based on John Key's belief that a boat carrying asylum seekers will one day make it to New Zealand' - see: Deal will harm other refugees - critics. Key claims that a boat was 'possibly headed' for New Zealand in December, and that he initiated the new offer to Gillard - see: NZ 'initiated boat people' offer - Key.

The likelihood of any boat reaching - or even seriously attempting a voyage to - New Zealand is challenged at The Standard. It's pointed out that, while Indonesia is technically in our neighbourhood, the distance to New Zealand is the equivalent of a return crossing of the Atlantic and twenty times longer than the distance to Australia - see: John Key discovers the usefulness of Yellow Peril. Also commenting on that post, Matthew Hooton says, 'Any Indonesian boat people with the ingenuity and sailing talent to make it to New Zealand should immediately be signed up by Team New Zealand'. But Danyl Mclauchlan best sums up the difficultly in the policy's logic: 'This makes so much sense. If "boat people" arrive in Australia they get sent to New Zealand, and if they arrive in New Zealand they get sent to Australian detention centers in PNG or Nauru' - see: Let's play musical internment camps.

The Press editorial says we have effectively approved and given international legitimacy to an Australian policy that 'is the outcome of squalid politics, beginning with John Howard's demonising of the boat people and exaggerating their threat. The effectiveness of the scare tactics, also employed after Howard left the scene, forced Gillard to reopen the foreign detention centres - centres of human misery' - see: Guilt by association. This approval and endorsement of Australia's controversial operations is also condemned today by refugee lawyer, Michael Timmins - see: Key's refugee policy misses the boat. Yet opposition parties have been noticeably weak in their critiques of the policy, choosing to play it safe. A Labour-led government, David Shearer says, wouldn't necessarily reverse the policy, and instead 'Labour would discuss the policy with Australia'.

Of course the deal may more mutually beneficial, even if the trade-off looks too much like grubby politics to admit it. Audrey Young cuts to the chase: 'this was a mutual back-scratching exercise but Australia has been pressing New Zealand for several years to help with boat people and New Zealand has been pressing Australia to help collect debt. Suddenly there's action on both prickly problems and that's not likely to be a coincidence' - see: Downunder do-fest solves leaders' two prickly problems.

But debt collecting for the government isn't the big issue for most voters when it comes to Australia. The lack of reciprocal access to benefits and opportunity to become permanent residents or citizens is the hot button. Some are even calling into question our basic relationship with 'big brother': 'Maybe it's time we accepted that Australia is no longer New Zealand's mate' says Chris Trotter in 'Crucified' Kiwis cry out in vain. There's no 'sugar coating' from Fran O'Sullivan either: 'You Australians are treating our New Zealanders as second-class citizens by denying our workers Government financial support when things go wrong in your country' - see: All we want is a fair crack of the whip from you Aussies. And this is backed by the Herald editorial, NZ must keep battling for rights in Oz.

The realpolitik answer may all be in the timing. Tracy Watkins says the Australian election means no progress can be made this year. If the Australian Government gave around 15,000 New Zealanders access to Australian welfare this would 'only paint "a huge bullseye" on Gillard' - see: Key beats Australian drum softly. Watkins says there are indications that an 8-year 'pathway' to residency may be in the pipeline. So New Zealand's own economic refugees may get some relief in the long term, at the cost of signing up to Australia's heavily criticised asylum system.

As an alternative option, libertarian Peter Cresswell advocates letting whoever turns up in, as long as there are locals willing to take them in and support them - see: "Let them come".

For an in-depth look at New Zealand's troubled relationship with Australia, including comments from myself, see Bruce Munro's feature in the Otago Daily Times: Ditching the big brother thing. I've followed up on this with some elaboration in my own blog post, New Zealand's petty 'little brother' relationship with Australia.

Other recent items of interest or importance:

* 'Wogistan' is the term being used by New Zealand First MP Richard Prosser to describe where Muslims come from. And he says that young Muslim males should be banned from flying on Western airlines - see David Farrar's blogpost, Wogistan. No doubt party leader Winston Peters - and wannabe coalition partners - will soon be asked if they condemn or condone such language and proposals.

* The Herald is running an extensive series this week on the living wage and questions what people need to make ends meet - see: A Kiwi bloke can survive on $19 an hour ... yeah right and Students obliged to take jobs at well below minimum wage. David Farrar voices some disagreement in The living wage, and Kate Chapman reports on one local authority that might soon be lifting its pay rates: Mayor pushes to give hundreds a pay increase.

* Two reporters plucked up the courage to actually interview the woman everyone was apparently afraid of at Waitangi this year - see Susan Edmunds' Titewhai Harawira: Nana or Bully? and Simon Day's A tete-a-tete with Titewhai. And Willie Jackson comes out in her defence in Titewhai Harawira was being silenced.

* Was David Shearer's recent endorsement by the Labour caucus actually only just enough to avoid a formal contest? Cameron Slater suggests that there were a large number of abstentions in the leadership vote - see: Hardly overwhelming David, time to fess up. And if Labour brings back John Tamihere, it'd be on his own terms according to an interesting interview with him by Steve Kilgallon - see: Tamihere wants to return to politics. Labour's relations with the Greens might be more fraught than realised, because just when you thought it was all peace, love, petitions and joint inquiries on the opposition benches, then comes a Twitter argument between MPs - see Martyn Bradbury's Mallard vs Norman on Twitter - this is what it sounds like when the doves self combust.

* There apparently is a place Judith Collins fears to tread - transparency in her own workplace - see Tracy Watkins' Self-interest trumps OIA call and Paul Little's Open a window into democracy.

* Environment Canterbury may provide a good test case as to whether longer gaps between elections produce better results says Gordon Campbell in How long is long enough?. Four more years of the same? No thanks Metiria, says Steven Cowan in Totalitarian Capitalism.

* As conservatives target MPs who have changed their tune since voting against civil unions (see Isaac Davison's Swinging MPs in firing line), Charles Anderson reports that John Key, despite his support of marriage equality, had his critics at the weekend - see: Mixed reception for Key at Big Gay Out.

* Over 340,000 people failed to show up for jury duty over the last 5 years, but only one person was fined as a result. Grant Miller looks at the implications for our justice system - see: Empty threats show failings.

* Finally, Blogger Martyn 'Bomber' Bradbury is quitting the blogosphere - see his post, Why I'm stepping down from Tumeke.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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