4 Sep 2018

Labour and NZ First differ over refugee increase

12:49 pm on 4 September 2018

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has thrown a major spanner in the works of Labour's plan to double the refugee quota, saying his party never agreed to that.

Labour campaigned on raising the refugee quota to 1500 per year and has consistently said it would do this within its first term.

It had already started boosting capacity at the Māngere Refugee Resettlement Centre in anticipation of an increased intake of refugees.

In the May budget it put aside $6.2 million over four years of new operating funding, along with $7.7 million over four years to build and operate two new accommodation blocks at the centre.

But yesterday as he touched down on Nauru for the Pacific Islands Forum, Winston Peters, threw the government a curve ball.

"We never made a commitment to double the refugee quota."

This appeared to be news to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

"I would want to check the context of all of those questions [to Mr Peters], but as I've said that commitment still remains."

Winston Peters speaks to the media as acting Prime Minister

Winston Peters speaks to the media as acting Prime Minister Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Ms Ardern said the policy to double the quota was still on the table.

"We haven't finalised all the details of that commitment, but that remains part of our policy.

"It hasn't come through cabinet, that's an accurate representation, but that is still a commitment that we have."

Mr Peters argued there were other priorities.

"We've got 50,000 people who are homeless back home, and I can show you parts of the Hokianga and elsewhere, parts of Northland, with people living in degradation.

"We have to fix their lives up as well before we start taking on new obligations of the level that some people would like."

Finance Minister Grant Robertson told Morning Report doubling the quota was "certainly the intention" of Labour.

"It's what we'd like to see happen," he said.

Mr Robertson said it might take a little bit of time to find consensus on the policy.

"This is the nature of the government, we work through these issues," he said.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said the proposal to take to Cabinet is still on track and the focus was on making sure the country had the infrastructure and systems in place.

"It's really important that if we're going to accept more people into the country, that we've got the capacity to settle people well.

"It would be an absolute dereliction of duty if we didn't make sure we had the housing, if we didn't have the resettlement centre up to capacity to be able to do it well," he said.

National's immigration spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said this showed who was really running the government.

"We've seen other examples of where New Zealand First policy has dominated over government expectations.

"Andrew Little's three strikes rule springs to mind - but this really shows."

Meg de Ronde from Amnesty International told Morning Report she was still confident the government would double the quota, and that Mr Peters was playing to his base as a party leader.