Green Party co-leader James Shaw has apologised for the way he announced his party's immigration policy last year after complaints that the Greens were pandering to anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Shaw said his party had now abandoned its immigration policy, and was focused on steering the public debate on migration in New Zealand towards values rather than numbers.

After commissioning research last year, the Greens proposed capping migration at 1 per cent of population growth, saying that the Government's proposed cuts did not go far enough.

Speaking at the Federation of Multicultural Councils' annual general meeting yesterday, Shaw said it was an attempt to shift the public debate towards an evidence-based approach in order to counter growing anti-immigrant rhetoric.

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"Unfortunately, by talking about the numbers rather than about the values, I made things worse.

"Because the background terms of the debate are now so dominated by anti-immigrant rhetoric, when I dived into numbers and data, a lot of people interpreted that as pandering to the rhetoric, rather than trying to elevate the debate and pull it in a different direction."

Shaw told the audience he was "mortified" at the accusations by migrant groups because his party prided itself on being the most pro-migrant party in Parliament. He said he was sorry for the effect it might have had on migrant communities.

"Migrants are not to blame for the social and economic ills of this country. Migrants are not to blame for the housing crisis. Migrants are not to blame for our children who go to school hungry. Migrants are not to blame for the long hospital wait lists. Migrants are not to blame for our degraded rivers.

"It is the government's failure to plan for the right level of infrastructure and services that has caused this."

Shaw told the Herald today that the Green Party was now reviewing its immigration policy, and it had abandoned the idea of tying migration to population growth. The party's position and public statements would place more emphasis on what migrants meant to New Zealand, rather than focusing narrowly on how many people were arriving on these shores.

Immigration is expected to be one of central issues of the election campaign, as net migration continues to break records.

Labour and New Zealand First have proposed significant cuts to migrant numbers in an attempt to ease pressure on jobs and infrastructure in New Zealand. National has outlined plans to reduce migration, but not nearly to the same extent.

Labour and Greens have signed a formal agreement to work together until the election.

Asked whether he was concerned about Labour's rhetoric on migration, Shaw said he was sending a message to the public rather than other political parties about the need to improve the debate on immigration.

He was especially disturbed at some of the public's response to his party's announcement two weeks ago that it would lift the refugee quota to 4000 people a year, saying it was wildly ignorant, downright racist, and fearful.

His apology yesterday was applauded by the Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign, a lobby group and political organisation. Spokesman Gayaal Iddamalgoda said the Greens' proposed immigration cap had "cloaked racist pandering under pseudo-scientific rhetoric".

It was good to see a politician respond to criticism, he said.