Immigration Policy: A Steady Convergence: Stephen Hoadley Finds Fundamental Similarities between Australia's and New Zealand's Immigration and Refugee Policies. (Immigration)

Article excerpt

Immigration issues tend to generate more heat than light. This is so whether they erupt in New Zealand, in Australia, or between New Zealand and Australia. Conceptual clarification and focus are needed. This essay concentrates on New Zealand and Australian immigration policies, particularly those on which the two governments have allegedly differed.

But before turning to specific differences, it is important to establish the over-arching conclusion that New Zealand and Australia pursue broadly similar immigration policies. (1)

* Both governments regard immigration as a necessary instrument to maintain economic growth, mainly to replace departures and fill specific needs.

* Both governments seek economically productive immigrants, chosen by criteria such as education, skills, experience, wealth, youth, health, character, and English language ability.

* Both also accept migrants on humanitarian grounds, including family reunion and refugee protection.

* Both governments' immigration policies are guided by international and domestic law, administered by impartial civil servants, and checked by statutory tribunals and civil courts.

* But in both countries immigration policies are influenced also by partisan debate, interest group agitation, media hype, and ministerial discretion.

Thus immigration policies are derived from economic needs, international humanitarian obligations, legal principles, and administrative processes ... all coloured by politics. This is as true in Australia as it is in New Zealand, with variations, to which we turn below.

During much of the past century, debate has been sparked by the racial origins of the prospective migrants, especially in Australia but also in New Zealand in more muted fashion. Europeans were explicitly favoured with subsidies, Asians were discouraged by poll taxes, and Pacific Islanders were regarded with ambivalence, tolerated and repelled in phase with economic growth cycles. However, since the 1980s immigration policy has been officially colour-blind in both countries. Encouraging a healthy ethnic mix and regional balance is still informal policy, but explicit selection of migrants, or criticism of the outcomes, on racial grounds has become all but taboo.

With race officially excluded from permissible debate, immigration issues since the 1980s have flared up over four new policy questions.

Family reunion

The first issue was family reunion. This issue was triggered by high Pacific. Islands migration rates caused by established immigrants sponsoring members of their extended families. Islanders tended to have fewer economic skills and higher unemployment rates than migrants from Europe or Asia. Those who came as tourists or temporary workers tended to overstay more often. In the 1990s both governments responded by tightening regulations, and Pacific migration slowed.

New Zealand governments, however, maintained open entry for Cook Islanders, Niueans, and Tokelauans, a quota for Samoans, and occasional anmesties for overstayers. These policies alarmed conservative Australians, who feared that the Pacific Islanders would migrate to Australia and burden the job market and welfare system. The Trans Tasman Travel Agreement (TTTA) permits unimpeded movement and residence; so when Islanders achieve New Zealand citizenship they are fully entitled to move across the Tasman. Australian alarmists periodically propose to reduce the scope of the TTTA, so government leaders in both countries have had to exert energy to counter this retrograde move.

Migration rate

The second issue was the rate of migration. Critics contended that rapid inflow would create unassimilated ghettos, social strife, and strain on public services. The most prominent critic for a decade has been Winston Peters, leader of the New Zealand First Party. His electoral success in 1996 and again in 2001 is widely attributed to his ability to voice the fears of elderly and insecure New Zealanders, and Maori, that their values and position in society would be undermined by an influx of foreigners. …