Brash to take tougher immigration stance

By Ruth Berry

National Party leader Don Brash will use tonight's Orewa speech to warn that immigration has the potential to undermine Western values central to New Zealand society.

He will claim a lack of public debate has surrounded the formation of immigration policy and signal National's intention to devote greater attention to the issue, the Herald understands.

National has in recent years taken a low-key approach to immigration, steering well away from the hardline stance of New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.

Dr Brash, when previously asked about the subject, has often pointed out that his wife is from Singapore, hinting he would be a hypocrite to join the anti-immigration debate.

He is likely tonight to note that immigration can be beneficial to New Zealand and to avoid making any definitive statements that clearly commit National to a change in position.

But his suggestion that Western ideals such as personal liberty and New Zealand's belief in the importance of a secular society could be compromised by immigration reveals the party is at least contemplating taking a tougher line.

The speech is likely to generate controversy by raising questions about whether National plans to target certain groups of immigrants.

Mr Peters has turned his guns on Asian, and then last year Muslim, immigrants.

His stance has been heavily criticised by National's only Chinese MP, its associate immigration spokeswoman Pansy Wong.

Dr Brash may have to walk a careful line to avoid alienating yet another National woman MP as the result of an Orewa speech, although the lack of definitive policy in this year's speech may avoid a similar clash.

National has been downplaying tonight's speech, which will largely focus on the economic downturn. Dr Brash will claim this is a legacy of Labour's poor stewardship.

He is likely to be hoping the speech will increase his party poll ratings in the same vein as did the hard-hitting race and welfare speeches.

This would be an important boost for the leader who is seeking to authoritatively stamp out speculation he will be toppled.

The Government is reviewing the Immigration Act and is committed to review the Immigration Service's administration procedures in an agreement with New Zealand First.

National may be considering taking a tougher line on immigration because it believes it will increase the pressure on the relationship between the two.

The speech will also identify health and a growing interest in the preservation of the natural environment as key new priority areas for National.

National finance spokesman John Key, electorate MP Lockwood Smith and some Auckland MPs will join Dr Brash at Orewa.

Frequently tipped as the MP most likely to succeed Dr Brash, Mr Key played down the likelihood of a leadership change.

"There is not an appetite for change. I concur with Don's view that he will be the leader going into the next election."

THE OREWA FILE

Orewa I: Dr Brash (as finance spokesman) raises prospect of ditching the dole. Consequence: Later distances himself from idea.

Orewa II: First big speech as leader. Attacks "race-based funding".Consequence: National soars in the polls. Maori Affairs spokeswoman Georgina te Heuheu is sacked after refusing to condone ideas.

Orewa III: Returns to welfare, suggests adoption instead of domestic purposes benefits. Consequence: Welfare spokeswoman Katherine Rich sacked after she refuses to back all the proposals.

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