Polity by Rob Salmond


Refugees and aid - we’re laggards

So in response to the worst year for refugees since World War 2, New Zealand is offering to take 600 extra refugees over the next two and a half years, over and above its normal quote of 750 a year.

That response is pathetic.

The quota is pathetic, too.

Yes, New Zealand’s a small country, so we probably shouldn’t accept half a million refugees, as Germany has done. But we can still pull our weight, by accepting an appropriate number of refugees given our smaller population.

Problem is, we’re not doing even that. Not even close.

Per head of population, Australia has accepted about twice as many refugees as New Zealand. Same with the US. Yes, you read that right: the United States of America is twice as generous as us.

Ireland, per head of population, is four times as generous as us. The UK is seven times as generous. So is France. Canada is ten times as generous. Germany is 16 times as generous. And Norway is over 19 times as generous as New Zealand, per head of population, when it comes to being welcoming to refugees.

New Zealand is a laggard.

It isn’t about distance – Australia and Canada are a long way from home for most of their refugees, yet they manage to be much more generous than us nonetheless. And it isn’t about wealth, either – New Zealand is almost as churlish when it comes to refugees per dollar of income as it is in refugees per head of population.

It’s actually much simpler than that. New Zealand is a laggard because successive New Zealand governments, National-led and Labour-led alike, decided not to care.

And New Zealand is also a laggard because we, the New Zealand public, are disinterested enough in the world’s poor to let those governments do as little as possible, year after year.

Our quota hasn’t moved for 28 years, while our population as grown 36% and our GDP has more than doubled, in real terms, both overall and per person. There are more of us, we’re richer than ever, and the problem’s worse, but we’ve done precious little more to help. It’s embarrassing.

Sadly, New Zealand’s mean-spirited laziness about helping the world’s most vulnerable isn’t anything new, and it isn’t limited to refugees, either.

Since 1970, New Zealand has stood time and again alongside the rest of the world’s rich countries, promising to spend 0.7% of our national income on overseas aid for the world’s poorest communities.

After 45 years of striving for that goal, where are we?

0.26%. $0.26 out of every $100 we earn as a country. We’re barely a third of the way there.

Again, it’s pathetic.

Again, we’re laggards, languishing in the bottom half of the OECD.

Australians give $0.34 for every $100 they earn. Germans give $0.38. France $0.41, Ireland $0.45. The UK gives $0.72 per $100 of earnings, almost three times as much as New Zealand. And the Swedes and Norwegians give over $1.00 for every $100 they earn – about four times as generous as we New Zealanders.

I disagree with people who think this is purely partisan. There’s been many years of Labour government since 1987, with plenty of missed opportunities to take more refugees, and plenty of lost chances to make good on our aid commitments.

The shame of our lack of compassion extends well beyond the current government. It spreads to every government of every stripe in recent memory.

I also disagree with blowhard idiots like M Hosking of Auckland, who think not doing enough is just too darn hard. We’re not doing enough as a country because we can’t be bothered to do enough. That’s the heart of it.

Finding room for more refugees isn’t hard. Finding money for aid won’t break the bank. Finding the will is the only real barrier.

It’s long past time for New Zealand to double the refugee quota and triple the aid budget.

As a country, we like to talk about how we punch above our weight. Right now, we don’t. Not when it comes to being good, compassionate people on the world stage. We’re pathetic. And that is a stain on all of us.

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