NZ government announces amnesty for 8,000 immigrants

NZ amnesty for 8,000 migrants
Helen Clark, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand (Seth Wenig—AP).

Oz Kiwi opinion

Very interesting article published on 4 October 2000, just four months before the 26 February 2001 law changes. Could this have been what truly tipped Australia over the edge?

NZ government announces amnesty for 8,000 immigrants

4 October 2000 – by Simon Butler

“The New Zealand government has announced that an amnesty will be granted to up to 8,000 immigrants living in the country without a visa. The Australian government has responded by attacking the decision, claiming that it amounts to “rewarding illegality” and will see “backdoor immigrants” coming into Australia. Australia’s harsh immigration policy, it seems, is going international.

Under the New Zealand plan those who have lived there for over five years without a visa will win an amnesty and receive permanent residency. Children born in New Zealand and those married to a resident or in a defacto relationship for over two years will also qualify. Immediate family members of overstayers will similarly be given an opportunity to apply for a residency permit under the transitional arrangement.

Australian immigration minister Philip Ruddock has threatened that New Zealand’s leniency could possibly lead to a review of freedom of travel across the Tasman. Currently there are no visa requirements for New Zealand or Australian citizens travelling between the two countries.

Ruddock claims that the New Zealand amnesty will send the wrong message to prospective immigrants and asylum seekers, leading them to think that Australia is likely to grant a similar amnesty in the future. This is, of course, out of the question for the federal government.

Australia vs New Zealand?

Ruddock claims New Zealand’s “looser” migration requirements will mean a growing number of people from other countries migrate there, gain citizenship after three years and then migrate over to Australia.

Ruddock and his government are not so concerned that New Zealand citizens are migrating to Australia. They fear that New Zealand citizens born in the Third World might migrate to Australia. Statistics estimate that the overwhelming majority of the 8,000 people who will receive the amnesty originate from Samoa and Tonga. The Australian government evidently finds the prospect of that number of Pacific Islanders coming to Australia seeking employment and a decent standard of living as something abhorrent.

The Australian government has also argued that because New Zealand has difficulty filling its immigration targets of 38,000 a year it is more likely to let in lesser-skilled migrants, thus exposing Australia to the “under-qualified”. This would run counter to the government’s stated immigration policy of favouring wealthier and better educated migrants, in line with demands from business and employer lobby groups.

The New Zealand Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel has dismissed Ruddock’s censure, arguing that there is no evidence that the amnesty will lead to a mass influx of immigrants into Australia. Some New Zealand MPs have gone further, accusing Ruddock of being motivated by racism.

The irony is that the two countries share a largely similar attitude towards migrants and asylum seekers. New Zealand’s amnesty is merely a last chance measure, before it too introduces harsh Australian-style immigration legislation that grants the government greater powers to incarcerate and deport “illegals”.

The argument between the two governments is not about whether or not to have discriminatory laws for immigrants and refugees; they both agree that they should. The difference is that the Australian government believes New Zealand should just deport the 8,000 who will qualify for the amnesty.

Dalziel has been careful to not let herself be portrayed as “soft” on migrants and asylum seekers, telling the Australian on 22 September that she is “very respectful of Australia’s position with respect to immigration policy generally”. Ruddock meanwhile, according to the previous day’s Sydney Morning Herald, has expressed his concern that the controversy will “not assist our objective to achieve a common border and harmonised immigration policies” with New Zealand.

The desire for a “harmonised”, impassable Australia-New Zealand stronghold is symptomatic of the attitude of nearly all First World governments. The persecution of refugees and migrants from the Third World is increasingly an internationally coordinated phenomenon, with First World countries unashamedly inflicting suffering on people trying to flee war, persecution and impoverishment.”

[Read the Green Left Weekly article].

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