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A Syrian family walks towards the gate to cross between Serbia and Hungary. (Photo by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A Syrian family walks towards the gate to cross between Serbia and Hungary. (Photo by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The BulletinMay 28, 2019

The Bulletin: Pressure put on discriminatory refugee policy

A Syrian family walks towards the gate to cross between Serbia and Hungary. (Photo by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A Syrian family walks towards the gate to cross between Serbia and Hungary. (Photo by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Pressure put on refugee policy over discriminatory clause, man stood down by Parliamentary Services speaks out, and Fox River cleanup going badly.

New Zealand’s refugee policy stands accused of being racist and discriminatory, in the same vein as US President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. This has been a topic that has dominated discussion since Sunday night. Having watched the full package put together by Sunday’s Jehan Casinader and Mava Enoka, it’s very easy to see why. It’s a remarkable piece of public broadcasting.

Here’s the key part of the policy that stands out, and a written version of the story is on One NewsRefugees from Africa and the Middle East can’t be resettled in New Zealand unless they have an existing family connection. Here’s a short history of how the policy came to exist. Since it was introduced in 2009, the number of refugees accepted from those parts of the world – including many predominantly Muslim countries – has dropped dramatically. If you’ve kept up with what’s been happening in the Middle East especially over the last decade, you’ll know there’s a pretty severe crisis of refugees not having anywhere to go.

It’s not the first time this as an issue has come up – we at The Spinoff published a call from refugee advocate Murdoch Stephens to overturn the policy last year. That was in the context of bad-faith calls from rightwing Australia for New Zealand to let in more white South African farmers, some of whom also face persecution. Stephens argued that because human rights are universal, there is no reason why anyone from Africa (or the Middle East) should face this sort of discrimination.

But the difference now is that the calls are starting to be heard around the Cabinet table. Radio NZ reports immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway agrees that the policy is discriminatory, that it is currently being reviewed, and an announcement will be made soon on whether the policy will stay. A range of charitable organisations are also calling for it to be overturned.

But all of this shouldn’t detract from a very simple truth about New Zealand’s refugee system – even after the quota was raised to 1000, the refugee intake remains tiny. That’s not just in numerical terms either, with 1000 places a year. That’s really low on a per-capita basis too. Germany famously took in a million refugees at the height of the Syrian crisis. Australia, a country many deride for their appalling island detention centres, still takes in well over 10,000 refugees and asylum seekers a year.

One of the questions that the Sunday story kept coming back to was a simple one. Who are we, as a country? Are we really a welcoming and friendly place? On the basis of this policy, you’d have to seriously question whether we are.

The man stood down by Parliamentary Services in the wake of the Francis report has spoken out. Newstalk ZB’s political editor Barry Soper reports the man, who is not named, is distraught at the implication that he is a rapist, and says it isn’t true. Moreover, he says he was never spoken to by the review regarding the accusations, before being stood down.

Just with this piece, by the way, I’m sharing it because it’s clearly relevant to the wider story here. But it’s also quite clearly not the only side of the story, as it doesn’t include any comment from any of the women who made the allegations against him. As such, I would strongly advise against making any final judgements until the full facts are known, and I won’t be publishing any feedback on the story.

The cleanup after the Fox River rubbish disaster isn’t going smoothly at all, reports Radio NZ. Almost the entire length of the river is still contaminated eight weeks after flooding broke open a poorly constructed landfill. That’s despite a team of people working hard to try and make progress. They say the disaster should be taken as a serious warning, because there are plenty of other vulnerable landfills around the country. The Council is now understood to be on the verge of suspending cleanup operations that they can’t afford to pay for.

The current system for funding midwives has been described as broken by the Southern DHB Chief Executive, reports Crux. Chris Fleming spoke to the publication in the wake of a woman giving birth in an ambulance, right near the now-closed Lumsden Maternity Centre. But it’s not necessarily facilities that Mr Fleming wants more of – he just wants more midwives to be working in his district.

Ah, Kiwibuild. It nows looks like the revised down target of 300 new houses by the middle of this year won’t be met either, reports Newshub. In fact, it has got to the point where the PM denied it was ever a target at all, which might be true in an official sense, but certainly isn’t true in the sense of what people were led to believe – here’s a Stuff article from January about it.

Fonterra is “straddling a deep divide” after putting an investment into engineered food. I hadn’t actually realised they had bought into a Boston biotech startup making lab cultured meat until reading this excellent feature by Bonnie Flaws on Stuff. But the company is now looking at a future where they try and do both grass fed dairy, and more artificial products. Into the future, these sorts of questions will require a lot of grappling from food producers, with a range of very different views on what constitutes sustainability and good environmental practice.

I wouldn’t normally link to a roundup, but this one from Bryce Edwards regarding ties between lobbyists and the government is very strong. Published on the NZ Herald, it jumps off from an excellent story from Newsroom’s Laura Walters, who looked into the relationship between lobbyist GJ Thompson and PM Jacinda Ardern. Mr Thompson was the PM’s chief of staff when the government was set up, and now has a firm in which the list of clients include Huawei – currently at the centre of a global diplomatic stoush. The reason I’m also linking to Bryce Edwards here is because it has been a particular concern of his for many years – his view has long been that politicians, lobbyists and staffers are all just a little bit too close for comfort in this country.

I’ve been really hoping something like this would be implemented for local journalism, and now it has happened. NZ on Air, Radio NZ and the Newspaper Publishers Association will partner up to employ eight local democracy reporters around the country, reports Radio NZ. Their job will be to get out and report on stuff that used to be covered by regional and local papers, before a whole bunch of them got shut down. It will be a one year pilot programme to start with, but will follow the lead of a successful programme with a longer track record in Britain.

I’m just going to be honest and biased here – I’m really excited about the potential of this, and reckon the main problem with it is that it is five years late. There are also a few points around the details to be worked out (will independent online publishers like Crux have access?) but overall, this is a great initiative.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Liam Hehir writes about the National party’s post-CGT search for a new defining issue to oppose. Simon Connell looks back on the time Hannah Tamaki tried to take over the Māori Women’s Welfare League. Alice Neville speaks to celebrity chefs about the baggage that comes with being a ‘name’, in the wake of Jamie Oliver’s restaurant chain collapsing. Don Rowe looks into the first ever IPO in New Zealand for a cannabis company. And Sam Brooks looks back a cult singing show Glee, and all the stupid things that happened on it.

Today’s feature is part family memoir, part under-covered history of one of the country’s official languages. I’m talking of course about NZ Sign Language, which is the subject of this excellent piece by Michelle Rahurahu Scott on the Pantograph Punch. The personal threads of the author’s family get woven into the wider history of the language developing and being recognised, in a way that feels really natural. Here’s a particularly funny excerpt:

At university I started playing around with Sign Language and learned that hearing people lapped it up. I had enrolled in what I called a ‘blow-off’ class, a general education course that taught something along the lines of interpretive dance. I had to present a performance, but I’d forgotten about it and turned up to class unprepared, and sweaty from hurrying there. The rest of the class stood up one by one to present their various creations, while I squirmed in my cross-legged position on the floor.

My name was called, and I dragged it out, really taking my time to get to my feet, then stood in the big empty space in front of the class. I stood there for a good half a minute, which I assume the audience received as a dramatic pause then just started signing a whole lot of nonsense. Like I expected, everybody loved it. I played it coy, saying I preferred not to translate what I had signed for ‘artistic reasons’. It was a complete cop out that earned me an A+ in interpretive dance, and a one-way ticket to hell.

Farewell Roy Krishna. The star striker has confirmed he’ll be leaving the Wellington Phoenix, reports Stuff, and is likely to head towards a much bigger payday in an Asian competition – rumoured to be the K-League in Korea. He knocked back offers from the Phoenix, and from other A-League clubs. The Fijian international became a beloved member of the Phoenix after arriving in 2014, and will leave a huge hole in the attacking third. The Nix currently have just seven players confirmed for next season, and new manager Ufuk Talay might need to go on a shopping spree.

From our partners: A two-tier system of energy use is developing, with those on high incomes much more able to reduce their bills than households on lower incomes. Vector’s Chief Risk and Sustainability Officer Kate Beddoe outlines what the company plans to do about that.

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