Have we the right to talk about immigration? This question is important because when I gave a speech on immigration in Wellington recently, the ensuing media chorus suggested some offence had been committed.



Did any of the big-city media challenge the economic, health or educational issues associated with immigration raised in that speech? No.



Did any of them follow up on the shambles that exists in the administration of our immigration laws? No.



Did any of them address the concerns raised about social cohesion? No.

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If the big-city media had any integrity, they would say: "Okay, we disagree with Winston Peters on immigration. But we give credit for putting a vitally important issue before the public - and we respect the right to speak out on it."



But no, the public arbiters of good taste in our society, the people who decide what you shall and shall not hear, have concluded that immigration has to be like the family uncle with a gambling problem - an embarrassment, something that cannot be admitted.



Such is the timidity of the big-city media that no editor had the courage to front up and tell their readers the truth and say, "Yes, this paper supports the current levels of immigration." Because if they did that, they would have a lot of cancelled subscriptions.



Although my speech is about immigration, it is also about the right of all New Zealanders to refuse to be cowed into a cringing silence by the dictates of misguided politeness and political correctness.



Ordinary Kiwis know something is seriously wrong with our immigration policy. But the political and media establishment are in denial. Their hope in this election is that a sort of censorship will prevail. The immigration issue will go away if we pretend it's not an issue.



As a result, when New Zealand First raises immigration issues, we are treated like lepers. The political establishment has decided that immigration is not a fit topic for your ears.



The other parties seem not to have noticed that immigration has become the single most important electoral issue in Western Europe and Australia.



Every developed country is toughening up its immigration policy in the face of massive pressure from the developing world. Every country, that is, except New Zealand.

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Yet when did the people of New Zealand grant this Government a mandate to allow 53,000 migrants a year to enter New Zealand?



Why are almost as many foreign-born people being allowed to settle in New Zealand as are being born here?



Why, relative to our size, are we allowing tens of thousands more people to enter as residents than any other developed country?



Why do we fail to enforce our immigration laws? We already have 20,000 overstayers.



Why are we failing to check for Aids and other infectious diseases brought by migrants?



Why are we handing out our citizenship like bus tickets?



And why does the Government tolerate a dysfunctional administration service that is incapable of plugging the loophole in our lax immigration laws?



Whenever the minister is confronted by immigration realities, what does she do? She falls back on the predictable formula for suppressing criticism - accuse whoever dares to raise the issue of immigration of being a racist, a bigot and a scaremonger.



What that has led to is the kind of extreme stupidity which saw Helen Clark taking more than 140 so-called refugees off the Tampa last year. At millions of dollars of future costs, they are all settled in New Zealand now. Were they genuine refugees? And who would be an appropriate authority to determine that?



The Bulletin of April 9 carried an article on the Tampa refugees under the title "Imposters". It says, "Only seven of the Afghan asylum-seekers rescued by the Norwegian container ship Tampa last year have been found to be genuine refugees".



And who made that judgment? The UN High Commission for Refugees, which identified the legitimate seven in its ruling on the status of 529 asylum-seekers detained at Nauru.



Of "the 301 who were rescued at sea from the Tampa, 292 were Afghans. The UNHCR decision means that the remaining 285 Afghans who do not qualify as refugees may be sent back."



So the UN High Commission is not a racist but anyone who challenged the decision to treat these people as refugees is. We will go on paying for this stupidity for years.



Pansy Wong, for National, comes from the same place as Lianne Dalziel for Labour. After my Wellington speech, she criticised me for being anti-Asian and attacking the immigrant community.



She cannot have read my speech; it certainly contained nothing that could be construed as anti-Asian or anti-South African or anti-British or anti-Fijian or anti-Sri Lankan for that matter.



We are not picking on immigrants who are here. New Zealand First's criticism is of open-door immigration; a system that has more holes than a fishing net. A policy that has no thought, no direction and no vision.



There was a young Chinese woman migrant in the audience for my Wellington speech. She told reporters at the end of the speech, "I agree with what he says. Immigration needs to be managed".



That is the authentic voice of a new New Zealander. She knew that what I was saying was sane, sensible and needed to be said. Naturally she didn't appear on TV that night but imagine if she had criticised me.



Where does National stand on immigration? There has been a deafening silence from Bill English. Maybe the political dominatrix who wields the whip over him decreed that talking about immigration might offend some of her Business Roundtable cronies who see importing cheap labour as the way to build our economy.



So Pansy Wong represents National's thinking on immigration - smear anyone who talks about immigration with the ultimate weapon in the political correctness arsenal, the weapon that stifles all debate, the label of racism.



Are the Danes racist? Are the Dutch racist? Are the Italians racist? Are the British, the French, the Australians racist? And take a look at the immigration policies of Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia and Korea. Are they racist, too?



Nothing that New Zealand First proposes would be contrary to their immigration policies.



All who have migrated to New Zealand - and that includes my ancestors - came to this country to find a better life for themselves and their children. The consequences of further unchecked immigration will affect you, whether you have been here three months or three centuries.



If we do not act soon, every New Zealander will be the loser and the New Zealand we value will be irretrievably lost. Already in our most populous region, Auckland, one in three of the population was born overseas. People of Asian ethnicity have doubled in a decade. What other country allows as many people to enter as are being born there?



Immigration is not a sideshow. It goes to the heart of who we are as New Zealanders. Immigration determines what sort of society we will be. It is the real issue in this election.



* An excerpt from a speech in Pukekohe last Friday.



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