Eritrean refugees resettled in Christchurch. L-R. Kesete's wife, Nimrud, Kesete, Okub, Gidawn, Kesete's brother and Aki (holding Kesete's child). Photo: RNZ / Sara Vui-Talitu

The Bulletin: The activism that overturned a racist refugee policy

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: How a racist policy ended up being overturned, new report paints grim picture of ‘locked-in’ youth facilities, and Porirua mayor under further spending pressure.

This happened on Friday, but it was a long time coming so is worth covering properly. The government has announced that an aspect of refugee policy described as “racist and discriminatory” will be scrapped. From now on, refugees from Africa and the Middle East will no longer require a family link in order to be welcomed to New Zealand. Those were the only parts of the world where such a link was required in order to come here. The Spinoff has an explainer with all the key details.

The reason why it’s worth looking back at this is because it’s a testament to the power of dedicated activism. The policy was in place since about the start of the decade, as this history from Murdoch Stephens shows. He himself has been a significant figure both in campaigns to raise the refugee quota, and getting this policy overturned. It was extremely slow going, with the previous government unwilling to change their position. The current government also moved slowly amid increasing pressure – for example, this piece by former refugee from South Sudan Clench Enoka was published in the middle of last year, after an announcement that the quota would go up. Tragically, it took the Christchurch mosque attacks to force the issue into wider consciousness, along with excellent pieces of journalism like this from Sunday’s Jehan Casinader, or this from Radio NZ’s Sara Vui-Talitu about Eritrean arrivals in Canterbury. The names listed here are just a few representatives of the many people and organisations who played a role.

As to the details of the wider refugee system changes, the focus will remain on the Asia-Pacific region. An increased number of places will also be dedicated for women at risk, and the number of places allocated for large-scale refugee crises will increase from 100 to 200. That will likely mean slightly more places for those who currently have little option but to make a desperate voyage across the Mediterranean, as outlined in this interview with Médecins Sans Frontières worker Shaun Cornelius. After all, the level of need for safe places to flee to is immense in various African and Middle Eastern countries.


A new report out today has painted a grim picture of life for young people in secure residential care facilities, also known as ‘locked-in’ care. The Spinoff reports that the study out today from the Children’s Commissioner has prompted fresh calls for such facilities to be shut down. It was based on dozens of interviews with children and young people, and found that the facilities were “setting [young people] up to fail”.


Porirua mayor Mike Tana is under further pressure over petrol card transactions, the latest in a long line of questions over his spending. Stuff’s Virginia Fallon and Joel Maxwell report the latest ones resulted in a discussion between the Council’s chief executive and the police, in particular relating to instances of his mayoral car being refilled after just two days – implying extremely heavy use which has raised suspicions. Tana says he has nothing to hide, is just a mayor who gets out and about a lot, and in turn has said the timing of this coming out at the business end of an election campaign is suspicious.


As you’re reading this, activists from Extinction Rebellion will be gearing up for direct action protests against climate change inaction in Wellington. It is unknown exactly where they’ll be going or what they’ll be doing – the nature of direct action being disruptive after all, they haven’t released that information. It is part of a global push taking place this week, and spokesperson Dr Sea Rottman has explained why the group believes such tactics are now necessary.


A huge slip has smashed apart a section of State Highway 4 between Raetihi and Whanganui, reports Radio NZ. For those who live or work around that area, it’s a serious blow, with an impact on both tourism and the movement of freight. Whanganui Hamish McDouall wants some sort of temporary fix put in place for now, as a permanent solution could be years away.


Here’s an excellent piece looking into one of the most important underpinnings of the economy right now – Chinese tourism. Stuff’s Amanda Cropp has taken a look into the detail of what declining numbers of tourists mean for the industry, and whether New Zealand as a premium destination is currently pricing itself out of the market. What really comes through the story though is how much the industry is affected by factors out of its own control, such as the US-China trade war.


Something to watch when you have a spare five minutes: Crux’s latest video documentary is about the future of the Queenstown ski industry amid climate change, and attempts to understand what that future will look like. It’s a really interesting area where a whole lot of points converge, and the documentary does a good job of picking some of those out, in the words of those experiencing them.


I know I asked you this last week, but have you voted yet? You have really got to get your postal votes in by tomorrow, or else you’ll have to manually drop them in somewhere. That’s a hassle, and just posting your ballot back is much easier. Also, because turnout nationwide is looking really bad at this stage, your vote could actually have an impact on who gets elected – just something to keep in mind.

If you don’t know who to vote for, Policy Local is here for you, and we’ve heard from many people who say it has been immensely helpful to them. So thank you to the team at Policy who built it, thank you to the partner organisations who helped make it possible, and thank you especially to The Spinoff Members who helped fund it.


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Right now on The Spinoff: Max Rashbrooke has cast a sweeping eye over the state of the government’s Working Group programme, in the so-called Year of Delivery. HART founder Trevor Richards looks back on the ugly and mean-spirited Muldoon years. Alice Webb-Liddall has put together a brilliant feature on Māori voices around Tuia 250. I met some Unitec architecture students putting together some very cool pieces of work ahead of Glow@Artweek.

And some television stuff which is cool and interesting: Felix Walton has written a fascinating piece about the digital graveyard of NZ shows which don’t have a platform to play on any more. And Tara Ward has searched through the TVNZ back catalogue to find 10 documentaries “that will make you smarter and more interesting.”


The Covering Climate Now week had some excellent work published, and I for one am very proud of the range of pieces published on The SpinoffBut across the media, two problems jump out. Firstly many pieces still fail to integrate climate change theory into other relevant topics. And secondly, a lot of media coverage of climate change has become obsessively focused on a solitary Swedish teenager. Mediawatch’s Jeremy Rose filed an excellent report on how it all went across the industry – here’s an excerpt:

New Zealand Politics Daily – a digest of the day’s most significant stories – included 129 climate change stories during the week of Covering Climate Now. During that same week Mediawatch took a look at the top four stories on the main New Zealand websites once a day.

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The results clearly showed that the media was willing to give blanket daily coverage to a topic it knows very well at least half the population has very little interest in – a topic some skeptics claim is utterly unimportant – but that didn’t stop them committing huge resources to covering every conceivable angle of …  the Rugby World Cup.

The Covering Climate Now reporting was also impressive but not on anywhere near the same scale.


Israel Adesanya is now the undisputed champion of the UFC’s middleweight division. It’s an incredible rise for the fighter, and is the culmination of years of dedication and self-belief. Stuff reports the fight to claim sole ownership of the belt against Robert Whittaker was short and brutal, finishing by knockout in the 2nd round. For Adesanya, the win will catapult him into the upper echelons of stars not just in his division, but across the entire UFC.


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