Hard News by Russell Brown

Government by Focus Group

Lianne Dalziel is defending herself, but it's hard to see last week's abrupt announcement of a new - and considerably more challenging - benchmark in the IELTS English test for new immigrants as anything other than government by focus group.

Not because it was announced so suddenly - changes to immigration policy have to be announced in the dead of night like Muldoon-era Budgets because any advance signal of a policy change draws a flood of applications. But because it doesn't address what the government's own reports say is actually broken: the business migrant scheme.

There are worse problems to have than having reversed the brain drain, but I am inclined, regrettably, to agree with Richard Prebble (warning: on past form, visiting the ACT Party website may result in a breach of your privacy) on the way it has been handled.

People who answer opinion polls and write angry letters to editors do not always know what they're talking about. It is not necessarily easy to become a New Zealand citizen (an Asian journalist I have met, and who would make a very fine New Zealander, is currently having a hell of a time). And most of those Asians who throng downtown Auckland these days aren't immigrants - they're paying customers at the language schools and the university up the hill.

But ignorance continues to strengthen the hand of Winston Peters and his political party. The saving grace is that xenophobic populist parties like New Zealand First are inevitably full of fractious idiots. They lack both competence and wisdom and they simply fall apart when they get a sniff of governmental power. It happened first time around with New Zealand First, it happened with Pauline Hanson and, of course, it has now happened in most amusing fashion (unless you happen to be Dutch) with the PimFortuyn list.

Nice to see that a member of New Zealand First has already blown the whistle on his "suspicious" leader. Expect a debacle sooner or later.

Immigrant, IT ninja and all-round nice guy Juha Saarinen has emailed me to report an attack of deja vu on the immigration debate. He found this Hard News from 1996. Check out my groovy .sig down the bottom of the page. Those were the days ...

And finally: there could be no better symbol of Peters' intellectual bankruptcy than his idiotic prediction that under current policy, New Zealand will become like Kosovo or Belfast. But those are two-sided conflicts with centuries-deep roots. The kind of places, indeed, that people fled in favour of New York, which became the world's greatest city precisely by accepting the old world's "huddled masses".

It's not so long since it was necessary to leave New Zealand to experience cultural diversity. Now, it is only necessary to leave the South Island ...