We need balanced books, not boat people

04:05, Sep 11 2012

I can tolerate the grandchildren - most of the time - even when the 2-year-old bruiser opens the dishwasher door and uses it as a trampoline.

I can tolerate the matrons in the weekend theatre audience who spent the interval denigrating that awful John Key - 'he can't even speak properly' - for pushing ahead with asset sales. After all, this was at Circa, a venue for the Wellington chattering classes, so what do you expect?

But I am getting increasingly grumpy about how the Greens and Lefties insist that we should be nice to people smugglers and those rorting the welfare system on the one hand while at the same time they oppose asset sales and miners who want to develop New Zealand resources. Spending money is OK, but creating jobs and trying to balance the books, it seems, is to be deplored.

The opposition to the legislation aimed at pre-empting a mass arrival of boat people refugees is beautifully simplistic in its appeal: such boats have not made it to New Zealand before, so there is no problem and legislation is not needed, they argue. Anyway, we are a nation of warm hearts and we can open our arms to the disadvantaged if they arrive (and provide them with houses and welfare cheques).

Australia, after a bout of Labor Government short-sightedness over boat people arrivals, which led to the closure of the offshore processing facilities, is facing unprecedented numbers (7000 for the past financial year) and is opening facilities in Papua New Guinea and Nauru again.

Faced with this, the evil people smugglers, who extract large payments from their victims in return for passage on sub- standard boats, will look for alternative landfalls. If New Zealand in effect advertises itself as welcoming they will eventually come, in spite of the dangers of the Tasman Sea. Intelligence reports reveal there have been six thwarted attempts already and one steel-hulled boat made it all the way to Canada - a much greater distance.


Overlooked in the debate is the point that boat people are largely 'economic' refugees, rather than genuine political refugees, whose return to their homelands would often spell torture and death. They are the ones languishing in refugee camps while the boat people jump the queue.

Immigration Minister Nathan Guy is getting a hard time because he is setting up procedures to cope with a sudden influx here so the system is not overwhelmed.

In the same way Social Development Minister Paula Bennett is derided for getting tough on beneficiaries who have not paid court fines and others who miss out on jobs because of their drug habits but then still claim the benefit.

Then there is the crackdown among state housing tenants after investigations showed 312 fraudulent applications.

All that helps balance the books, as well as sending a useful signal that there will be repercussions for those who try to rip off the welfare system. In the current economic downturn maintaining our gold-plated welfare system will be difficult even with the assets selldown.

We could assist with book- balancing and job-creation by approving plans for projects such as Bathurst Resources' coking coalmine on the West Coast's Denniston Plateau. But as the company points out, consent approval in New Zealand, unlike elsewhere, is followed by never- ending appeals from opposition groups till an application makes its costly and time-consuming way to the Supreme Court.

This is a hell of a way to do business, but any suggestion of streamlining the Resource Management Act brings screams of protest. It is remarkable that the company perseveres in the face of the consenting nightmare and the economic slowdown in China, which has forced down the price of coal and reduced imports.

Bathurst Resources chief executive Hamish Bohannan noted on TV3's The Nation at the weekend that there was huge potential for mining on the West Coast.

Couldn't someone make an application for a giant uranium mine? That might divert the Greens for long enough to enable some of these other practical, down-to-earth, job-creating applications to get consent.

The Dominion Post