Green party MP Teanau Tuiono (Image: Anna Rawhiti-Connell)
Green party MP Teanau Tuiono (Image: Anna Rawhiti-Connell)

The BulletinApril 11, 2024

A shocking night in parliament and a victory for fairness

Green party MP Teanau Tuiono (Image: Anna Rawhiti-Connell)
Green party MP Teanau Tuiono (Image: Anna Rawhiti-Connell)

Glad tidings from parliament as a bill introduced by a Green MP to remedy an incredibly unfair law gets support in its first reading from Act and NZ First, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Act and NZ First shock parliament

As Alakihihifo Vailala reports for the Pacific Media Network, a landmark bill enabling the restoration of the entitlement to NZ citizenship for Sāmoans born between 1924 and 1948 passed its first reading last night. The bill is a members’ bill from Green party MP Teanau Tuiono. It passed with the support of Labour, the Greens, Te Pāti Māori, Act, and NZ First. National voted against it. As the Herald’s Audrey Young writesAct and NZ First “shocked parliament” in supporting the bill to select committee stage. Young describes the bill, which stripped the automatic right of New Zealand citizenship from Sāmoans born before 1948 and was passed in a rush in 1982 after a Privy Council decision, as “a weeping sore”. Legal expert Graeme Edgeler wrote on the subject for The Spinoff back in 2017, and explains the history and detail of the act. Edgeler described the act as New Zealand’s most racist immigration law.

A long hoped-for gesture

The National/Act/NZ First government has no Pacific MPs. In supporting the first reading of the bill, Act MP Parmjeet Parmar said the party wanted to assess the bill on the basis of equality and fairness. NZ First’s Casey Costello referenced party leader Winston Peters and his advocacy for the Pacific. In Sāmoa, Peters is referred to as Vaovasamanaia, the chief title he was given in 2007. As Madeleine Chapman wrote last year, the repeal of the law was a gesture many had hoped for as part of the Dawn Raids apology in 2021. Instead, two years after the apology, another kick in the teeth was delivered by way of revelations that Immigration NZ was continuing to conduct early morning arrests on suspected overstayers. In an assessment of why Pacific voter turnout was low in traditional Labour strongholds published last year, Chapman suggested a lack of action might be one of the reasons.  Purely at a political level, National’s lack of support for the repeal bill seems difficult to fathom when an opportunity to further burnish its narrative about the previous government’s preference for words over action was just sitting there.

National’s concern at possible setting of precedent

At a practical level, repealing the bill simply creates a pathway to citizenship for a group of people who are now aged between 76 and 100, thought to number about 5000. National MP Cameron Brewer said the party’s main problem was that the bill was presented as a private member’s bill. Brewer said legal experts would say that retroactively reinstating the citizenship of citizens affected by the act sets a problematic precedent and that the government was focused on managing migration levels. Labour’s Carmel Sepuloni shot back, saying the citizenship was retrospectively taken away in the first place.

Amnesty for overstayers still unresolved

As far as I know, the matter of granting amnesty to Pacific overstayers who are victims of changing immigration policy over the years, having travelled here under the impression it would be a pathway to residence, remains unresolved. Labour repeatedly kicked this issue down the road, only announcing a policy in the days before last year’s election to grant an amnesty visa to overstayers who have been in the country for more than 10 years. At the time, Christopher Luxon rejected any amnesty for overstayers saying, “You can’t reward illegal immigration to New Zealand.”

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