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PoliticsMay 17, 2021

Live updates, May 17: Sweeping reduction to immigration planned as Labour tells business to hire local

blog may 17

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for May 17, bringing you the latest news updated throughout the day. Get in touch at

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6.00pm: Sweeping reduction to immigration planned as Labour tells business to hire local

Political editor Justin Giovannetti reports

The government is preparing to reset the country’s immigration system after Covid-19, slashing the number of workers allowed into New Zealand and requiring those who can come to have higher skills.

There’s no future for businesses in sectors like tourism and the primary industries looking forward to a post-Covid rebound where they can bring in temporary workers, Nash said. Except in critical cases, they’ll now be expected to hire local, pay more or invest in machinery.

In an evening speech at parliament, economic development minister Stuart Nash said immigration will pivot to people with critical skills and investors with the money for “large, long-term investments”. Immigration minister Kris Faafoi was supposed to deliver the speech but is unwell.

In recent weeks the Labour government has said that immigrants have been responsible for driving down wages and pressures on the country’s infrastructure and housing. Tonight, Nash made it clear that the high levels of migration seen in recent years is no longer welcome.

“When our borders fully open again, we can’t afford to simply turn on the tap to the previous immigration settings. That path is a continuation of pressures on our infrastructure … and downward pressure on wages. Since the borders closed, we’ve seen a reversal in the horticulture sector, for example, where there’s been a lift in wages to bring in local workers,” said Nash.

Nearly 5% of the country’s workers are on temporary visas, by far the highest level in the OECD. Thousands of those workers, including many in the healthcare sector, haven’t been able to bring their families into the country over the past year because of Covid-19 restrictions. In a sign of what’s to come, Nash said that won’t change. The government is instead creating a new exemption for foreign businesspeople who want to come here to negotiate deals in-person.

The border will be open for people with skills and financial resources, he said.

“We’ve welcomed CEOs, engineers, financiers, research and development practitioners, digital and IT specialists, agricultural workers and film industry people to support New Zealand’s economic growth while our border is closed,” said Nash.

Reflecting the size of the changes being mulled, it’s easier to talk about what programmes won’t be cut or toughened. There will be no changes to the rules for refugees, RSE workers, working holiday visas or people coming in on family and humanitarian categories.

Everything else is up for reset, which represents the vast majority of New Zealand’s migrants. The minister also indicated that the current programme allowing the partners of New Zealanders coming from overseas to work in the country could be ended. On that change, he provided no other details. 

4.00pm: Australian PM Scott Morrison to meet with Ardern in Queenstown

Political editor Justin Giovannetti writes from parliament

The trans-Tasman relationship is headed to Queenstown in two weeks as Australia’s prime minister visits, restarting an annual leaders’ meeting during the age of Covid-19.

The last time the two prime ministers met in person was only days before the coronavirus turned into a globe-shattering pandemic.

Apart from the virus, the meeting comes after a difficult year in the relationship between prime ministers Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison, punctuated by New Zealand’s anger towards ongoing deportations from Australia. The issue of the deportation of children is likely to be raised.

“The key focus of the meeting will of course be our Covid-19 recovery as well as how we continue working together on key regional and security issues,” Ardern said in a statement. The prime minister said the in-person meeting is “highly unusual” in the context of the coronavirus.

Beyond political meetings, the visit will be designed by New Zealand’s officials as a tourism advertisement directed at potential quarantine-free travellers from across the Tasman. Expect officials to put Morrison and the visiting press pack in front of as many scenic locations in and around Queenstown as they can.

3.40pm: Collins refuses to back down on race issues despite crushing poll

Judith Collins has doubled down on her accusations of “separatism by stealth”, despite a damning poll result that showed support for her leadership of National has collapsed.

Speaking to Magic Talk this morning, Collins said it was “crucial” she continued to discuss these matters.

“The government did not campaign on it in the election. They did not tell people what they were doing and we’re being told that if we raise these issues then that makes us bad people,” she told host Peter Williams.

“Well, no, we have to raise these issues. It’s going to be too late if they just go ahead and do everything they’re doing,” she said.

3.10pm: Taiwan battles renewed Covid-19 wave

Taiwan – the country so often held up as an ideal for handling Covid-19 – is facing a new outbreak of the coronavirus.

According to local health authorities, the nation has recorded more new cases overnight than in the entirety of the pandemic: 180.

Most of those have been detected in the capital Taipei, which is now moving back into tight health restrictions. For the next fortnight, locals will be required to wear a mask outdoors and indoor gatherings will be limited to just five people. Up to 10 people can gather outdoors.

As recently as last week, the opposition – most prominently Act – have been encouraging the government to look at Taiwan as a shining beacon of how to handle Covid-19. While the new cases have not yet spiralled out of control, all eyes will be on Taiwan over the next days and weeks.

2.15pm: Sāmoa’s month-long election deadlock broken

Sāmoa’s election deadlock has been broken, with the country’s Supreme Court declaring the appointment of an additional MP “unconstitutional”.

It means the newcomer FAST party has been given the majority needed to govern over a month after the election ended in a stalemate.

However, the battle for Sāmoa’s leadership is not yet over. A snap election was set to take place on Friday in an effort to break the deadlock. At this stage, that will still take place.

Whether that call was constitutional is to be ruled on this afternoon.

1.05pm: More Wellington wastewater testing under way after ‘weak positive’ Covid-19 result

Results from further wastewater testing in Wellington won’t be known until tomorrow night.

It follows a “weak positive” Covid-19 result being detected in the capital following tests on both Friday and Saturday.

The Ministry of Health said it still believed the results were due to recently recovered cases continuing to shed the coronavirus.

“The ministry is encouraging anyone with symptoms, especially if they are in the Wellington region, to get tested promptly,” a spokesperson said. “This advice also applies to recent visitors to the Wellington region.”

Meanwhile, there are no new community cases of Covid-19. Five new cases have been detected in managed isolation – all travelled from India via Qatar.

The total number of active cases in New Zealand today is 18. Our total number of confirmed cases is 2,295.

12.55pm: Cook Islands gearing up for return of travellers

The Cook Islands travel bubble has officially opened – but the first arrivals won’t touch down until tomorrow.

The first flight to Rarotonga will depart tomorrow, and there will be daily flights between the two countries after that. It marks the first quarantine-free travel between the two countries in over a year.

The president of the Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council, Liana Scott, told RNZ that they were expecting a slow and steady build-up of travellers. “But this is our journey of recovery phase, so we’re still excited about it,” she said.

“New Zealand is still the biggest market for sure. It made up about 62% of our numbers, so definitely a big chunk and of course Kiwis have pretty limited places that they can travel to at the moment, so that will make a difference as well.”

There may also be an influx of Australians into both New Zealand and the Cook Islands as a result of the bubble opening. Quarantine-free travel between Australia and the Cooks is not yet available, so travellers will have to spend 14-days in New Zealand first.

“We’re expecting between 50 and 55% occupancy for most places, only based on the current schedule for this season, which is one flight per day. But Air New Zealand has assured us if demand grows they’ll increase that flight schedule. So anything is possible at this stage,” Scott added.

12.05pm: New stats confirm Covid-19 migration drop

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the year ending March saw the largest annual drop in net migration.

According to new figures from Stats NZ, net migration was just 6,600 over the past year – compared with 91,900 in the year ending March 2020. That’s a drop of 85,400.

Meanwhile, arrivals and departures across the border dropped by around 13.3 million on the previous year due to Covid-19 restrictions.

There were 319,700 border crossings made up of 127,600 arrivals and 192,100 departures. In contrast, in the year to March 2020 there were 13.6 million border crossings, made up of 6.8 million arrivals and 6.8 million departures.

9.45am: Wellington Covid result no cause for concern, say officials

In case you missed it over the weekend: a tiny amount of Covid-19 has been discovered in Wellington’s wastewater. But, at this stage, health officials don’t think there’s any cause for concern.

ESR testing reported a “weak positive” test result on Friday May 14. A follow-up test the next day recorded the same result.

According to the Ministry of Health, the most likely cause is recent returnees from quarantine who are continuing to shed the virus.

“In recent weeks three recovered cases who live in the Wellington region have left the Auckland quarantine facility,” said a spokesperson. “A further historical case left a Wellington managed isolation facility the same day the second sample was taken.”

It is possible that one or more recently recovered cases from elsewhere could have flown into Wellington, they added.

“ESR consider a single recovered person shedding the virus may be detected in wastewater.”

Anyone in Wellington with Covid-19 symptoms is urged to get a test as a precautionary measure.

9.20am: ‘I don’t get into the politics of the opposition’ – Ardern tight-lipped on Collins’ successor

Jacinda Ardern chose not to get into opposition politics this morning when asked who should roll Judith Collins as National’s leader.

Following yesterday’s dismal poll result on Newshub, speculation has been rife about if – or when – Collins will be replaced in the top job.

Speaking to The AM Show today, Ardern said that decision was squarely for National.

“I don’t really get into the politics of the opposition and who their leader is going to be,” she said.

“The questions asked around some of the substantive policy debate we’ve been having, yes, absolutely. But when I get asked the question as to who the leader should be, that’s not for me, that’s for them.”

The same Newshub Reid Research poll showed a slight drop for Ardern as well – although still well up on her opposition. The PM is sitting on 48.1%. She remained unfazed.

“I’m here to be critiqued. That’s what we’re all here for. However, when we look at the support for the party and the government, [it’s] standing up really well. We’re moving from a Covid response phase to a Covid recovery,” she said.

8.00am: Collins remains confident despite shocker poll result

“I am safe.” That’s what Judith Collins had to say this morning following a shocker poll result that showed she is a dead leader walking.

Last night’s Newshub Reid Research poll had the National Party up a notch on election night to 27%, but had Judith Collins plummeting in the preferred PM stakes to just 5.6%.

Speaking on Newstalk ZB, Collins said the numbers were wrong. “Newshub haven’t run a poll since before the election so of course it’s normal for the opposition leader to take a fall when it’s months after an election,” she said.

Asked what her internal polling results showed, Collins could not provide a figure. Instead, she said her “numbers” were based on what the public have been telling her. “What I’m getting is people stopping me in the streets, stopping me at the koru lounge, telling me that we’re doing the right thing and we’re standing up to the government,” she said.

As detailed by The Spinoff’s Toby Manhire this morning, Collins has faced flak in past weeks for continually beating the race card drum. Despite this poll showing the tactic has failed, Collins said she would not back down from talking about the government’s supposed separatist agenda.

“The party vote is going up, it’s not huge but it’s a little bit,” she said. “And it’s also obvious from our regional meetings that people are coming back to the National Party. I’ve never seen numbers like I have at the moment when it comes to people turning up.”

Being two and a half years out from an election, Collins suggested the poll was unimportant.

“Can we get onto the big issues which are, by the way, joint governance for water in the South Island between Ngāi Tahu and the councils. That’s what that is,” she said.

Collins was “unavailable” to front on RNZ this morning and did not make an appearance on Newshub either.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

As mentioned at the end of last week, we’re expecting some sort of announcement on immigration policy from the government this week. Newsroom’s Anuka Nadkarni reports the announcement will involve much tighter targeting of highly-skilled people in migration targets. As the PM said at an event last week, “we are actually using Covid to actually stop and take a look at our immigration settings.”

There are plenty of live issues in the sector right now. One of them that the government seems likely to focus on most is the skills shortage. Almost every day there’s a story about some sector or other in need of trained workers (for example, over the weekend there was a story about a desperately needed Southland roofer who soon has to leave the country on Stuff) and previous government announcements around MIQ spaces have shown that is a topic on their radar.

But on some issues in the area, there will likely be nothing new. Immigration minister Kris Faafoi disappointed migrants protesting at parliament who have been split from their families, saying he couldn’t tell them what they wanted to hear. For more depth on that issue, read this by guest writer Branko Marcetic. Political pressure is being applied on family separations by National MP Erica Stanford – here’s a piece from a month ago in which she makes the arguments that she’s been pushing on ever since. But the moral force of the argument around reuniting families appears to be making little impression on the government.

For an exploration of the wider long-term population issues that could underpin all this, it’s hard to go past this piece by Stuff’s Dileepa Fonseka. It explores some of the reasons why population policy planning can be necessary – but also why just bringing the topic up can spark controversy and ugly rhetoric towards some groups.

Keep going!