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New Zealand

Week in Politics: NZ First sees votes in a population policy

Radio New Zealand logo Radio New Zealand 8/11/2019
Shane Jones, Winston Peters, Simon Bridges, Jacinda Ardern, Li Keqiang are posing for a picture © RNZ

Analysis: Shane Jones wants his party to "campaign unstintingly" on a population policy as NZ First spots a vote-winning strategy, the prime minister returns from the East Asia summit glowing in the aftermath of an upgraded free trade agreement with China and Christopher Luxon quickly becomes acquainted with the political facts of life.

There were strong indications this week that NZ First will run a hard-line immigration policy during next year's election campaign.

As the controversy about partner category vistas rumbled on, Mr Jones didn't back off from his inflammatory suggestion that if Indians didn't like the way it worked they could "catch the next flight home".

He told Morning Report he would be taking a proposal to NZ First's caucus retreat this weekend that the party should "campaign unstintingly" on a population-based immigration policy next year.

"I'm on incredibly fertile ground for the party I represent," he said, which appears to mean he believes there are plenty of votes in it.

Mr Jones' explanation of a population-based immigration policy was that it was about the changing nature of New Zealand's societal culture through immigration. Another way of saying it could be that too many people with cultures different to New Zealand's are being allowed in.

Mr Jones and party leader Winston Peters strongly endorsed the change that saw Immigration NZ take a firm line on applications for visas for arranged marriage spouses. The rule that the couples should have lived together for 12 months was strictly applied, which caused an outcry from the Indian community.

Although the NZ First MPs were reported to have claimed credit for it, there's no evidence that was the case. The decision was made by Immigration NZ in May, with no directive from the government.

National visa manager Peter Elms told RNZ that previously, officers had been able to use their discretion and grant partnership visas in exceptional circumstances. But exceptions were becoming the norm, which meant policy was being contravened, so they were told to stop doing it.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway wasn't told at the time. He has said it would have been helpful if he had been.

It wasn't in the public arena until Indian activists started making waves last month, and the politicians climbed in after that.

Regardless of who started it, the issue has set NZ First against Labour. The change is being reversed. "Our expectation is that we return to the way we were operating prior to the changes," said Ms Ardern.

In that case, Mr Lees-Galloway has some unfinished business with his department because it clearly made the change to bring its operations into line with what it believed was government policy - a policy which Mr Peters strongly supports.

Luxon 'got a little bit Sussied'

Christopher Luxon, the former Air New Zealand chief executive, has taken the first step on his political ladder. And he had barely got his foot on it before getting himself into a media muddle.

While being interviewed by Morning Report's Suzie Ferguson he was asked whether he supported National's proposal that sole parents should face a benefit cut if their child was not vaccinated. He said he did.

And did he believe it should be extended to cover parents receiving Working for Families benefits? Ferguson didn't let him get away with it being "a notion of rights and responsibilities" and pushed for an answer - which was yes.

National's leader, Simon Bridges, had to defend him and said the raw candidate had been pressured into taking a strong stance. "Christopher got a little bit Sussied. I get Sussied about every other fortnight," he said.

Chris Hipkins wearing a suit and tie: Chris Hipkins at Parliament 21 may 2019 © Provided by Radio New Zealand Limited Chris Hipkins at Parliament 21 may 2019

Mr Bridges then had to agree it was possible National could extend the sanction.

Labour's Chris Hipkins, making mischief, said Mr Luxon was already "getting out ahead of his leader" and hinted there was a leadership agenda in the pipeline.

But while Mr Luxon hadn't been ready for the benefit question, he was prepped for the leadership issue. "My real ambition is to represent Botany exceptionally well," he said. Mr Bridges was a fantastic leader, and for his part he knew he had a lot of learning and listening to do.

Although it will be nearly a year before Mr Luxon even gets into Parliament, speculation about his potential to become the next prime minister persists.

The Dominion Post put some sense into the situation in an editorial: "Just how the idea of Luxon as leader, and potentially prime minister, would play with the party faithful and the voting public remains to be seen," the paper said. "Until he's actually in Parliament, and Kiwis have seen him in action, nothing is a done deal."

Chinese deal three years in the making

Ms Ardern returned from the East Asia Summit in Bangkok this week glowing in the aftermath of a successful upgrade to New Zealand's free trade agreement with China.

It's taken three years to finalise and Ms Ardern made the announcement after meeting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

It means exporting to China will be cheaper and easier and there will be preferential access for most wood and paper products.

"Our upgraded free trade agreement will remain the best that China has with any country," the prime minister said.

The original agreement was signed in 2008 and since then two-way trade has trebled from $8 billion to more than $28 billion.

During the summit New Zealand and 14 other countries agreed on the terms for what will be one of the world's largest free trade pacts - but India still has "significant outstanding issues".

The deal is set to be signed next year, by which time India will have hopefully come on board.

If it hasn't, the others will work on a way forward. India's government has familiar worries about opening up to a flood of agricultural products from New Zealand and Australia, as well as cheap goods from China.

Ms Ardern said New Zealand had separate free trade agreements with most of the countries involved but the pact would be a great help. "What it does is create a simplicity by bringing all of those nations into a single agreement and that has enormous benefits for New Zealand exporters," she said.

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