John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Time for Peters to beat immigration drum

New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters. Photo / Richard Robinson
New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters. Photo / Richard Robinson

Bang! Bang! So predictable has Winston Peters become in timing his beating of the anti-immigration drum in the countdown to an election that you can almost set your watch by it.

Warming up for the coming contest, the New Zealand First leader singled out Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse in Parliament yesterday, quizzing him - not for the first time - on why China was so "grossly over-represented" in the number of migrants entering New Zealand through the "parent category" covering family reunifications.

Woodhouse, a Dunedin-based list MP and former Government whip who has held the Immigration portfolio for barely 18 months, has previously accused Peters of "stirring the embers of xenophobia". Strong language. But that was via press statement.

Inside the House, Woodhouse is more circumspect. And wisely so. There is little point in getting into a slanging match with Peters who would be the only beneficiary in terms of publicity.

So, like a weary teacher repeatedly trying to make a difficult pupil understand something, Woodhouse sighed before noting that the number of Chinese entering under the parent category was the time-lag result of younger Chinese entering under the skilled migrant category under the previous Labour Government -- a Government which, he also noted, had relied upon the support of Peters' party. In contrast, National had abolished entry rules which had made it more likely Chinese parents would gain residence.

But Peters simply kept asking the same question, prompting one wit on National's benches to shout: "Get a Gold Card, Winston" while other MPs challenged Peters to explain what exactly was wrong with Chinese migrants.

But Peters persisted, asking why when it came to parent applications, China had more than all other countries put together.

Woodhouse replied dismissively that what was of interest to him was not the number of applications, but the number accepted for residency.

Peters retorted by accusing Woodhouse and his Cabinet colleagues of encouraging China to treat New Zealand as a "retirement home" with all the benefits that most New Zealanders had paid their taxes for over a 40-year working life.

But Woodhouse was not going to be provoked. He once again explained that the parent category had been tightened up. He also suggested if Peters "is serious about this", he would be supporting an immigration bill being promoted by the Government.

Peters' muttered response was inaudible. But he is hardly likely to blunt the weapon that has served him so well for so long by falling into line with what National is saying months out from election day.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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