Hard News by Russell Brown


If I were to say what I really thought of New Zealand First's 'Whose Country Is It Anyway?' leaflet things might get unseemly. So let's just observe that Winston Peters is a coward and a bully and his party is the home of fear, failure and resentment.

Certainly, the postal workers who initially refused to deliver the leaflets this week were on shaky ground. We really can't have the carriers of the mail deciding what we receive.

But even in the most casual posties, you can usually divine a quiet pride in the fact that they do a job that society needs in order to function. It would be hard to feel pride in delivering a nasty item like that.

The text of the leaflet included claims that "We are being squeezed out of our own country ... It is not in our interest for thousands of Third World immigrants to come here for a life on the welfare system ... We cannot absorb these numbers without serious social and cultural disruption."

Along with these tawdry little unprovables, it contained the ludicrous claim that "hundreds of thousands" of third world immigrants have come to New Zealand since 1999. Lianne Dalziel told Newstalk ZB that the correct number is more like 20,000 since 1997, a little over 3000 a year (compared to, say, the net inflow of British migrants in the year to October of 10,000). I guess you could try and argue that China is a third-world country, but the Chinese who make it through our immigration requirements (12,400 in the year to October) hardly fit NZ First's welfare-parasite slur.

We are not, according to the Department of Statistics most recent release of migration numbers, facing a rising tide of immigrants:

Permanent and long-term (PLT) arrivals exceeded departures by 3,000 in October 2003, compared with 4,100 in October 2002. This decrease can be attributed to 600 fewer PLT arrivals and 500 more PLT departures. PLT arrivals have now dropped in each of the past eight months, when compared with the same months of the previous year.

Peters did not, of course, apologise for, or even seek to correct this apparently willful misinformation. Instead, he threatened legal action against the queasy posties, and claimed, fatuously, that a press release by Steve Maharey hailing Auckland as "a real twenty-first century melting pot" constituted a telling admission:

Mr Peters said he also applauded the Minister for finally admitting that there was a serious immigrant/refugee/asylum seeker employment problem in Auckland.

However, despite his sudden fit of political honesty, the minister conveniently forgot to mention that housing, health, welfare, education and transport systems were collapsing in Auckland under the weight of mass immigration.

Immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers. This is Peters' most recent variation on his perennial thing, a tack prompted in part by the current publicity over the Ahmed Zaoui case. We tend to forget how he will shift his targets depending on what's expedient. He used to make inferences about wealthy Asian immigrants with their fancy houses in Howick. Around the time of last year's election, it was Asian students, who were claimed (absent proof, as usual) by New Zealand First MP Pita Paraone to be milking the welfare. There's always some sort of foreigner looking to do us down, isn't it?

Anyway, back to reality: in the year 2000, the Refugee Status Appeals Authority adjudicated 1,449 asylum claims. It declined more than 80 per cent of the claims it heard, and approved only 270. A further 748 claims were withdrawn. In the year to June 2002 the authority received 1277. The figure to June 2003 was only 670 appeals, of which 129 were withdrawn before a hearing. Of all those, a total of 64 were granted refugee status (under, it should be noted, a law drafted when Peters was Deputy Prime Minister). There is no torrent of refugees. Quite the reverse.

I'm pissed off that, once again, Peters is taking Auckland's name in vain. His constituency - the people he's trying to scare - aren't really in Auckland. A robust attitudinal survey conducted for the November Metro magazine indicated that just under half of Aucklanders agreed that immigration has been good for the city, and fewer than a third disagreed. The same poll offers a clue to Peters' re-targeting of refugees, rather than Asians: 61% of those polled agreed that Asian immigration had been good for Auckland (while only a quarter disagreed) but 42% saw no benefit to Auckland from the arrival of refugees.

Yes, immigration is a factor in Auckland's housing boom (the others being returning expatriates and the long-established drift to Auckland from other regions), but blaming immigrants for the city's transport problems, which have been decades in the making, is simply fatuous.

And who are these refugees? Well, there's a refugee family in my street, headed by a solo mum. Her son is tall, athletic and handsome, and a thoroughly good kid. I'm pleased to have them as neighbours, and that my country and my city have been able to give them the opportunity to thrive. I'm deeply embarrassed that they stand a chance of getting Peters' filth in their mailbox.

So imagine my consternation, then, at watching Eating Media Lunch (excellent again!) last night and seeing Jonathan Eisen on the steps of Parliament with his newly anti-GE buddy Winston. And no, it wasn't an accident: Eisen actually had Peters conduct the public launch of his nasty and defamatory book, The GE Sellout. You take public fear where you find it, I guess. They would seem to have plenty to learn from each other …

PS: It seems a shame to have to append a thank you to Debra - always such a warm and human presence as a blogger - to the considerations of venality above. But anyway, she's retiring for the same reasons as Chad: to concentrate on the big job of writing novels. Of all of us, she posted least but crafted and nurtured her prose the most. We'll miss her. Yes, there will be some new Public Address regulars along presently, but for now, love and thanks.