Authors call for Maori interests to be recognised on immigration

Tahu Kukutai, from the University of Waikato's National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis
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Tahu Kukutai, from the University of Waikato's National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis

A new book on New Zealand immigration policies claims Maori are suffering disproportionate economic impact.

Fair Borders from the BWB Texts series of books, which includes influential titles like Generation Rent and The Child Poverty Debate, includes a call for Maori voices to be heard in the national immigration debate, which is dominated by business leaders and economists.

Tahu Kukutai and Arama Rata from the National Institute of Demographic Analysis at the University of Waikato also say it is time for the citizenship oath to include a reference to upholding the Treaty of Waitangi.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse.
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Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse indicated there was no intention of incorporating the treaty into the oath, and that Maori enterprises were "beneficiaries of good immigration policies" as they provided access to workers when no locals were available to do the job.

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"Providing for a much greater measure of Maori influence on migration policy is long overdue," Kukutai and Rata say.

"The impact of immigration on labour markets is ... disproportionately detrimental to Maori. Immigration is great for business owners, as the flow of labour allows skills shortages to be met, and competition within the labour market lowers wages," the pair say.

"The lenient visa criteria for temporary migrants in a range of categories, coupled with the flow of returning expatriates escaping the stagnating Australian economy, the labour market is potentially saturated with low-skilled workers, causing concerns within Maori communities that low-skilled jobs will become more difficult to secure and less well remunerated."

And, they say: "While immigration alone has not caused New Zealand's current housing crisis, it certainly adds to housing demand."

"At the pointy end of the housing crisis, where many Maori live, it is becoming increasingly common for households to spend more than half of their income meeting housing costs."

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There are potential economic gains from hearing Maori voices on immigration, they say.

"In regions that are struggling to deal with demographic and economic decline, iwi leadership is critical, and this ought to extend to matters involving immigration."

"There are ample opportunities to create partnerships that are mutually beneficial for Māori and migrants."

Having immigrants who achieve citizenship recognise the Treaty of Waitangi, this country's first immigration policy, when giving their oath of allegiance was not radical, says Kukutai.

Currently, people swear they will honour the Queen, obey the laws of New Zealand, and fulfil their duties as New Zealand citizens.

"Having new citizens make an oath to both Treaty partners... by pledging to uphold Te Tiriti o Waitangi would be a small step towards this recognition of mana whenua," the pair say.

The Treaty's legal status is based upon where it is mentioned in acts of Parliament, the Treaty Resource Centre says. There are more than 60 acts of Parliament where it is mentioned, but that does not include the Immigration Act.

Woodhouse said that in 2013, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment "was unable to find any evidence that temporary migration had adverse consequences for the employment of New Zealanders overall", but that this research was being updated, and would be released later this year.

"Evidence to date is mixed on the effects of migration on house prices, with recent MBIE-commissioned research concluding that net international migration trends have had a minor impact on the Auckland housing market," he said.

He said the question of a treaty clause in the Immigration Act had been considered, but it was considered more appropriate to ensure migrants had "a good understanding" of the treaty by making information on it available to new migrants.

The authors say some Maori are uneasy about rising immigration.

"This unease reflects a number of concerns: the inevitability of losing 'majority minority' status as Maori population growth fails to keep pace with net migration from Asian countries; the implications of this demographic shift for Maori political power; perceived competition for jobs and cultural resources; and uncertainty over the status of the Treaty and biculturalism," they say.

By 2028, Maori will have gone from being the second largest ethnic grouping in the country to third, behind Asian people, projections from Statistics NZ show.

"Memories of displacement and domination are not relegated to the past; for many Maori they are real and raw."

In 1840 the ratio of Pakeha to Maori was about one to forty. By 1860 the groups had reached parity and after 1874 Maori were less than one-tenth of the national population.

 - Stuff

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