Yellow Peril by Tze Ming Mok

When a policy isn’t written down, is it still a policy? A conversation with Pansy Wong

She came to the country at the same time as my family, is New Zealand's most left-wing Chinese MP, has an electorate office around the corner from my flat, and tries to talk down to me like she's my mother - yet somehow, Pansy Wong and I just don't click.

But when you've a bee in your bonnet about National Party policy on immigration and 'race-based funding', who you gonna call? Or at least, who's gonna take your call? It took her three weeks of silence and time-switching on me, but the Panzer finally picked up the phone two nights ago, and immediately started scolding me for being disrespectful. Made me feel right at home.

It's hard not to feel some sympathy for Pansy Wong. While the National Party has promoted its 'four year probation period' for migrants as examples of them being tough on immigration issues, I gathered during our interview that Pansy has been sent out to communities to convince them that there will be no change in the existing policy with regard to deportation for criminal offenses. However, the actual party policy does not say this. The actual party policy says very little, but is phrased both bluntly and vaguely. "Those breaking the law will be swiftly returned to their homeland." The question is not whether Pansy Wong's guarantee can be trusted, but whether her interpretation which appears nowhere in the actual policy, will hold any power when the man on the cross-benches starts folding his arms.

On the 4-year probation period, aka 'provisional residency'

TMM: The four-year probation period is something that really struck a nerve and made people feel shocked and betrayed in a lot of communities. Now, you’ve fought for these communities, you’ve represented these communities, you must have known that this would have had that effect. What kind of input did you have over that policy issue?

PW: If you look at our policy, ‘probation’ was never in the policy.

TMM: It’s called provisional residency.

PW: Exactly. If you look at the current permanent residency holder, it always come with condition. Okay? ...The [conditions on] criminal offences ... is ten years in the existing law. For the first two years if one commits an offence, that attracts a three month prison term, or commit a crime that attracts a two year imprisonment within a five year period, or a five year period within a ten year period, then your permanent residence will be revoked… We are maintaining that. The four year one is substantially to do with the benefit standdown, that’s the only thing that has changed.

TMM: So there is no extension of 'provisional residency'?

PW: only on the benefit standdown, from two to four years. ...The only thing that’s changed is really the benefit standdown would be from two to four years.

TMM: Can I clarify, the press release, the original immigration policy press release says in the first sentence, “immigrants will be put on probation for four years” and then that “those who break the criminal law within those four years will be sent home immediately.” Does the currently existing law allow for immediate deportation of people who commit a criminal offence?

PW: I’m not too sure which press release you’ve got.

TMM: This is the one released ninth of August from the New Zealand National Party, ‘Brash announces immigration policy’.

PW: Yeah, okay, but…

TMM: The New Zealand National party: “those who break the criminal law will be sent home immediately.” Immediate deportation for anyone who breaks the criminal law. Is that not the policy?

PW: As far as the imprisonment one, it’s the existing one. The four years has always been linked to benefits.

TMM: There’s a separate policy line for that, which is that immigrants will not be able to qualify for welfare benefits for four years.

PW: That’s right.

TMM: But the other policy is that: “Immigrants will have to satisfy good-conduct requirements for four years before they can qualify for permanent residence. Those who break the criminal law will be sent home immediately.” Will they be residents or not? And will they be able to be deported immediately if they are convicted of a criminal offense, any criminal offense?

PW: Basically it will be in the current law that I’m telling you is first two years three months imprisonment [allows for deportation], first five years is two years imprisonment and first ten years is five years imprisonment.

TMM: But this says anyone who breaks the criminal law. It just says “those who break the criminal law”, it doesn’t specify how long they have to be charged for, it doesn’t say anything about sentencing. It just says if you break the law you’ll be deported. Are you saying that’s not the policy?

PW: We have on our website, my immigration spokesman should be on the same wavelength on this one. For the good conduct that we always talk about is on two grounds. One is what I told you about, ten years existing criminal offence and the other is the four year benefit standdown.

TMM: Okay, so this apparent threat of deportation, are you saying it’s been overstated in the press release, and it’s not actually policy?

PW: I have always concentrated on the policy. So I have to go back and reflect on that.

TMM: Well I’ll just have a look at it now. Googling New Zealand National Party. [pause as TM accidentally clicks on the tax-calculator and is unable to find a way back to the main party page] I can’t find it, where’s the policy bit? Where’s the policy on the website? Do I have to go backslash-policy?

PW: It should have individual different categories.

TMM: No, it’s just taken me to taxcuts. There’s no policy, it’s just taxcuts! Oh dear. Oh, here we go. You’re saying it’s not as harsh as that in the actual policy, but seems strange that it has been sold so harshly in the actual media. Let’s see ‘Brash announces immigration policy’, this is the original press release, it’s on the site.

PW: Tze Ming, I have always based on substance. There’s all sorts of things being sold.

TMM: Yes, there’s all sorts of things being sold, so why…

PW: it’s not being sold by me!

TMM: It’s not being sold by you, it’s being sold by your party. So I’m not saying that you’re at fault, but there’s obviously a certain interest within your party to sell things a certain way to a certain demographic. In this particular case…

PW: Why are you using ‘demographic’, let’s…

TMM: Well I’m talking about New Zealand First voters. This is what I’m talking about.

PW: No, no, let’s debate about that, put it in for what. So they don’t like migrants.

TMM: Yes, they don’t like migrants. On the 9th of August, NZ First was looking like the only viable coalition partner for National, the National Party released an immigration policy that basically threatened to deport immigrants who had broken any criminal law within the first four years of their residency in New Zealand, and they wouldn't be full residents within that time, and that was in the first line of the press release, and Don Brash delivered a speech that talked about fear and resentment.

PW: Well that is what reporters say.

TMM: No, this is in the National Party press release.

PW: National Party wouldn’t say on the 9th that we’re trying to appeal to NZ First supporters or whatever, that’s your interpretation.

TMM: I guess that’s the interpretation. It’s a pretty unanimous one among Asian commentators I have contact with, journalists, academics, media people and so forth…


PW: Are you trying to say this one is gunning at Asians.

TMM: No, I’m saying that we expected better. And people in the communities are feeling betrayed, they’ve said it in the Migrant News, “why did Pansy Wong let us down? I will now vote for another party. We migrants find it hard already, this National Party policy will make it more difficult for us.”

PW: This is democracy. As far as I’m concerned, all we change is a benefit from two to four years and I’m comfortable with that position, because I think ultimately a country’s immigration policy has to balance, with consideration for the country, and also to remove some stigma, because there are a lot of talk that migrants come here on benefit, and a great majority don’t, and great majority when we consult with them and say they’re comfortable that it’s a four year benefit standdown.

TMM: Okay, just looking at the policy now… "those breaking the law will be swiftly returned to their homeland." Well that's even less specific.

PW: Yes, within those ten years, your PR will be revoked [as] under the current situation.

TMM: If you’ve been here for just under four years, you can only be deported now if you’re sentenced to five years prison. Your policy just says "those breaking the law will be swiftly returned to their homeland." Do you think they should make it more specific?

PW: The immigration spokesman and I are saying the same, and we’ve put it out, there’s no difference to the existing law.

TMM: But it’s been marketed in a strangely xenophobic way, and that’s why it shocked so many people.

PW: For people who choose to be very defensive and sensitive.

TMM: Okay, so you don’t think it’s got anything to do with cosying up to New Zealand First, because [Asian] people, you know, they don’t like to see you being humiliated in these kinds of tradeoffs.

PW: Tze Ming, I have not trade off anything.

TMM: There’s this gap between what you’re saying the policy is, and what it can be interpreted as, because the gap hasn’t been filled in. Anyone who breaks the law, any migrant who breaks the law will be “swiftly removed.”

PW: Tze Ming I have filled in the gap, if you refuse to accept it I’m not sure what I can do.


You could be forgiven for misreading the previous sentence as “Tze Ming I have filled in the gap, if [Winston Peters] refuse[s] to accept it I'm not sure what I can do.”

Is there such a thing as a verbal election policy? When a policy isn’t actually written down, is it still a policy? What consistency can a verbal policy-filler maintain? If a deportee slips through the gap between the pollyfilla and the policy wall, will they make a sound?


On race-based agencies - aka 'the Population Ministries'

TMM: Do you support the disestablishment of Te Puni Kokiri, Te Mangai Paho, the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, the Ministry of Women's Affairs, the Office of Ethnic Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade's funding of the Asia New Zealand Foundation?

PW: Nobody talking about the disestablishment Office of Ethnic Affairs, but we’re not talking about establishing a Ministry of Ethnic Affairs. My stand on the OEA has always been my preferred way [is] education, the big departments adopt a multicultural framework. Because ultimately if various community wanting services [the solution] is not having a small team of people trying to produce reports and do catchup, and [it] is actually changing the psyche and culture of those departments, like Education, like Health.

TMM: So that’s race-based. Not that race exists exactly, I mean ethnicity is what we’re talking about, but you know Don likes to call it race.

PW: It’s actually not race-based. The issue that why people want Ministry of Womens Affairs, Ministry of Pacific Affairs or Ministry of Maori affairs stems out of the dissatisfaction that they don’t feel they were getting services.

TMM: Don’t you feel they’d be even more dissatisfied if you take their Ministry away?

PW: Well that depend on how strong you can factor in your framework. …Ultimately if you want services to be deliver, you have to get people into the departments, for example I’ve always encouraged Asians or Chinese parents, and say look, instead of just encouraging them to be doctors or business people, it’s okay to branch into other areas. It’s always about getting into those main areas.

TMM: The reason behind the – threatened I guess – review of TPK, TMP and MPIA is because they are race-based funding and Don Brash is against race-based funding. But why isn’t OEA considered race-based funding, why isn’t the Asia New Zealand Foundation considered race-based funding?

PW: Because it’s not a sort of ministry, it’s a part of a bigger department.

TMM: But they’re being funded.

PW: We- I think the Ethnic Affair…

TMM: And they’re being funded for the same reasons. They’re like a little mini-Ministry. The rationale is the same.

PW: We will be looking at what services, at what services they are looking at.

TMM: So OEA is going to be reviewed?

PW: We’ll be looking at what they are doing, but certainly we have been upfront in saying establishing a Ministry of Ethnic Affairs would not be on our agenda.

TMM: Yes, you’ve said that quite consistently for a while. So OEA would be reviewed, but just on a slightly lesser scale because it’s not a full ministry, but the same kind of review?

PW: Actually to be fair, we have not put a policy out on the Office of Ethnic Affair.

TMM: Why have you not done that?

PW: Well mainly because at election you just looking at some of the sort of you know main area, and I think the main area you're looking at is the five key one plus immigration, that’s a lot of work.

TMM: Yes, but race-based funding is race-based funding surely.

PW: I’m not too sure we have a policy out on Ministry of Pacific Affairs. Tze Ming, we are running an election at this time.

TMM: Yes, and people are just sort of coming up and saying stuff. You may not have a policy on it, but the leader of your Party has said that MPIA will be reviewed the same as TPK, because it’s a race-based ministry and it’s race-based funding.

PW: And the other thing is you’ve got to look at whether they are being effective and they are doing the job what they are doing. People are ultimately wanting services.

TMM: You could ask that of every department.

PW: Yes, true, and they’re always under review. Every department is under constant review.

TMM: But you’re not going to review every department. Just the ethnic minorities. It’s a particular ethnic minority review round he’s been talking about.

PW: As I say I’m not aware that we have put out anything about review of Ethnic Affairs or Pacific Affairs. It’s not just ethnic minorities, Don has an opinion about Women’s Affairs, and that’s not about ethnic minorities.

TMM: No, but it’s about a ‘non-mainstream group’.

PW: [pause] Women cannot be non-mainstream.

TMM: Well it’s good to hear it from you.