13 Jun 2017

'Pandering': Rival MPs criticise Labour immigration plan

6:38 am on 13 June 2017

Accusations of race-baiting are swirling around Labour's immigration policy despite a direct effort to distance itself from such claims.

Labour's leader Andrew Little has stressed the party's immigration policy is not about ethnicity or race.

Labour's leader Andrew Little has stressed the party's immigration policy is not about ethnicity or race. Photo: 123RF / RNZ

The party yesterday unveiled its plan to cut the number of new immigrants by up to 30,000 a year by tightening rules around student and work visas.

Labour leader Andrew Little has stressed its policy is not about ethnicity or race.

But both United Future and the ACT Party reject that, calling it a blatant pitch towards populism.

United Future leader Peter Dunne said Labour's plan was "really all about race and pandering to a certain section of the vote".

"It's a nod and a wink to try to get New Zealand First on side.

"But frankly it's going to have a detrimental effect on a number of tertiary institutions in terms of their funding [and] also in terms of the skillset coming into New Zealand."

'They've clearly been watching the UK election'

ACT leader David Seymour said it was a sad day when "the major opposition party starts beating the race drum".

"They've clearly been watching the UK election. They've seen UK Labour do well from the collapse of UKIP [United Kingdom Independence Party]. They're getting desperate.

"They think that maybe they can engineer something like that by moving into New Zealand First's territory."

But Mr Little said Labour was committed to maintaining New Zealand's reputation as a tolerant, diverse society that welcomed migrants.

"When new migrants come here, they enrich our country and make New Zealand a better place. To achieve that, we have to create the social and economic conditions that make successful settlement here."

The Green Party is worried some might see the policy as a pitch to xenophobia, but has come to Labour's defence.

Co-leader James Shaw said he did not think that was where Labour was coming from.

"They've done a lot of work and they've come a long way from where they were in this debate.

"My sense is that they are trying to reframe the debate as one about how we manage this for the sake of the people who are coming here."

Meanwhile, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said Labour had finally seen the light.

"But when we were saying it, we were being dumped on by all and sundry, and now all of a sudden the lightbulb's gone off.

"They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery and that's about the size of it."

Labour's policy would crack down on migrants entering for low-skilled work and those working while studying low-level education courses.

It said the government had failed to plan for a record influx and could not offer new migrants the life and opportunities they were expecting.

But National, along with Act and United Future, said Labour's plan would strangle growth and stall the economy.

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