Tapu Misa: Cash more important than veterans, refugees

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Government prioritises migrants with deep pockets, than veterans or refugees. Photo / Herald on Sunday
Government prioritises migrants with deep pockets, than veterans or refugees. Photo / Herald on Sunday

There was much outrage last year when University of Auckland Maori studies professor Margaret Mutu suggested the Government should restrict the number of white migrants from countries like South Africa, so as to lessen the chances of importing white supremacist attitudes destructive to Maori (not to mention the rest of us tinted folk).

Mutu said Maori felt threatened as more groups came into the country and swamped them.

Her comments followed a Department of Labour survey, which found that Maori were more likely to express anti-immigration sentiment than any other ethnic group, including Pakeha.

This is hardly surprising, given our history. Politics is a numbers game, and being swamped has consequences.

It wasn't so long ago that we operated a racist white New Zealand immigration policy.

Indeed, it wasn't until that policy was lifted, in the late 1980s, that the so-called "mainstream" white majority got a glimmer of how Maori might have felt when they were consigned to minority status in their own country.

As the number of Asian migrants swelled in the 1990s, so did majority angst over the "Asian invasion".

It would be nice to think we could turn away racists at the border, the way we turn away convicted rapists, say.

But as far as I know, there's no effective test to weed out the racists from the enlightened. And even if such a test existed, we'd still have to contend with the damaging ignorance of the home-grown variety.

At an immigration conference at Massey University last week, Immigration Minister Nathan Guy made it abundantly clear where the Government's priorities lie: the ideal migrant is one with deep pockets.

None of this "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" palaver.

The Government, as Guy says, is "very focused on attracting migrants who will bring the most economic benefits to New Zealand".

Apparently, its costly run of troubles with internet tycoon Kim Dotcom hasn't put it off millionaire migrants.

Money is behind the Government's reprehensible attitude to New Zealand Army veterans like William Framhein.

Framhein is 70, a Cook Islander and therefore a New Zealand citizen.

He was 18 when he was balloted into the New Zealand Army for national service. He subsequently joined up for full-time service in 1965, and served in Malaysia and Borneo. Later, he did four tours of duty in Vietnam.

Ordinarily, Framhein would be entitled to a veteran's pension (which for married men is $536.80 a week). He has a leg injury suffered while training in Malaysia, and has lost hearing in one ear. He's also paid New Zealand taxes for some three decades.

But he's been denied it because he doesn't meet two requirements: living in New Zealand at the time of applying, and living in New Zealand for at least five years since the age of 50.

This is despite the fact that the Cook Islands, where Framhein now lives with his wife and family and wishes to receive his pension, is part of "the realm" of New Zealand.

In an effort to meet the requirements, he's had to leave his island home for six months of every year to live with his sister in her Porirua flat. Since turning 65 in 2007, he's built up 2.5 years of residence.

But he suffers from deep vein thrombosis, and every trip is a nightmare, as he told the Herald's Simon Collins.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has said it would take a law change for Mr Framhein to be able to collect his pension in Rarotonga.

So change it, RSA president Don McIver has said: "This guy served in Vietnam and went back again three times. In my view it warrants special consideration."

The Cook Islands government has been lobbying for more than a decade to have veteran's pensions and New Zealand superannuation payable to Cook Islanders who have worked most of their lives in New Zealand.

So far with no success, though a 2010 Law Commission report has recommended changes.

Mr Guy, who is also the Veterans' Affairs Minister, says the Government will respond to that report in the next few months.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully has acknowledged the rules are unfair, but said fiscal restraints imposed by the Christchurch earthquake has put the issue on the backburner.

It seems the Government has more pressing immigration problems at hand.

It's trying to pass a law that would see asylum seekers who get here by boat locked up for up to six months.

It claims a clear and present danger. But no boats carrying asylum seekers have ever reached New Zealand, and the chances of one surviving the hazardous journey are so remote that if, by some miracle, one actually reached our shores, the last thing we should be doing is locking them up.

Aside from the obvious humanitarian considerations, such resourcefulness and bravery deserves to be welcomed with open arms.

- NZ Herald

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