New Zealand is a country built on immigration. We are all the better for the skills and rich culture immigrants bring. When it's working, immigration is a win-win. But, currently, it's not working.
New Zealanders are reasonable and fair-minded. We need to able to talk about an immigration policy that is good for the economy and good for people.
Having a public debate about how we manage immigration is not an attack on the idea of immigration nor on any person who has settled here from overseas.
Immigration is an issue we have to get right. If we ignore it, unscrupulous people will fuel resentment against immigrants to create a politics of division and nationalism, as we are seeing overseas. No one should want that for New Zealand.
The fact is, our infrastructure and our public services can't keep up with the record number of people coming into the country.
We need to take a breather until we can catch up.
Bill English and National haven't made the investments to keep up with immigration: roads are clogged; schools are filled to bursting; houses are unaffordable. Instead of investing, he has cut our public services and transport spending.
You can see the results everywhere, especially in Auckland.
Aucklanders are telling me their quality of life is falling.
House building isn't keeping up with demand, leading to rising housing costs that eat up whatever small pay rises they're getting. People find themselves spending more time stuck in traffic, and less time at home with their families.
Recent immigrants tell me the Kiwi dream they were promised has been replaced by a reality of unaffordable housing and gridlock.
The population of Auckland is growing by more than the size of Whanganui every year, but National isn't making the investment in the infrastructure those extra people need.
People are rightly asking why the Government hasn't prepared for the record number of new immigrants. You wouldn't invite a whole lot of people over for the weekend and have nowhere for them to sleep, but that's effectively what National is doing.
Immigration is growing because, instead of supplying the valuable skills New Zealand needs to prosper, the system is increasingly being used to bring in low-skill, low-wage workers. In the last year, thousands of work visas were approved for jobs like waiters, luggage porters, and domestic housekeepers.
When 139,000 Kiwis are unemployed, we should be focusing on getting them into these jobs. It's not okay just to leave them on the dole and leave taxpayers to pick up the bill.
The Government's own officials warned about hiring workers from overseas, when we have unemployment at current levels that denies work opportunities to local workers. It's not a good outcome for those migrant workers, either. Many of them are paid just above, or even below, the minimum wage.
Immigration should be win-win. National has made it lose-lose.
So, what do we do about it? National's tinkering hasn't worked.
I'll be releasing Labour's policy soon. My guiding principle is that the system has to be fair, both for people who are already here and for new migrants.
The immigration system must make New Zealand a richer place, both economically and culturally.
Right now, we have to reduce the numbers coming here. New Zealand cannot cope with a net 72,000 immigrants a year. We need to reduce that by tens of thousands.
At the same time, we need to reverse National's cuts and invest in housing, transport, and our strained hospitals and schools.
A properly run immigration system would make it easy to bring in people with skills we need to help New Zealand prosper, but we must stop the abuse of the system by dodgy employers who want to import workers on the cheap.
Where there are real skill shortages, we need to invest more in training New Zealanders to do those jobs, rather than leaving them idle on the dole and permanently relying on immigration to plug the gaps.
We need to stop the rort that sees people overseas being sold meaningless qualifications here on the promise that it's a pathway to residency.
We must also maintain New Zealand's proud history of caring for those in need, by doubling the refugee quota to 1500. Slowing down economic immigration does not mean closing our hearts to victims of war and disaster.
National's refusal to take responsibility and address the abuse of the immigration system is another failure from a government that is simply out of touch.
So, let's take a breather.
Let's reduce the number of low-skilled immigrants being brought into the country, while still getting the skills we need.
Let's invest in the services and infrastructure we need to support a growing population. Let's make immigration a win-win again.
* Andrew Little is the leader of the New Zealand Labour Party.