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Immigration net high, politics net low

It’s unfathomable to me why immigration is not an election issue.

Net migration is up to a net 38,300 migrants to June, the highest since October 2003. It’s the result of not just high total arrivals but also super low departures, particularly to Australia.

This is fodder for all parties. For the left, immigration is an effective lightening rod for nationalists and protectionists. For the right, immigration is a contributor to the economic pie, bringing in skills and investment. For the government, net migration is a sign of health – a vote with people’s feet.

Yet only NZ First has made a play, with Winston Peters announcing policies to restrict immigration at last weekend’s party conference. Peters claimed that ”when the OECD seriously criticises our confused immigration policy, then you know something is gravely wrong. NZ First will cut immigration to those we need, not those who need us.”

In fact, the opposite is true. According to an OECD report “by and large, the New Zealand labour migration system is functioning well. Several features of the NZ immigration system, such as the Expression of Interest system, are gradually about to become an example for selection systems elsewhere in the OECD.”

There are many statistics about our little country that are weird: the most gold medals per head of population; the third highest obesity rates; the highest number of magazines per reader. Now add this: New Zealand has the largest temporary labour migration flows in the OECD, which provides the feeder for permanent migration.

The fact that we can handle this level of immigration is a testament to our tolerance as people but also our policies which have largely been bi-partisan and consistent over the years (if you’ve got money and skills, you’re in).

Perhaps there’s so little noise at a political level because immigration is working so well. This seems to me a missed opportunity to silence the xenophobes.

Vincent won many awards as a journalist with Metro magazine and The Independent Business Weekly and was twice named Editor of the Year by the Magazine Publishers’ Association for his role in founding Unlimited magazine. In 2004 he co-founded HB Media, which was later to become Tangible Media, and is a publisher at AUT Media, the publishing division of AUT University.

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