Priority should be on rebuild, not migrants - Brash

OLIVIA CARVILLE
Last updated 05:00 21/01/2013
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Don Brash

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The Government should turn a blind eye to illegal migrants working in Christchurch's rebuild because the city needs all hands on deck, former high-profile politician Don Brash says.

Brash, a past leader of both the National Party and ACT Party, believes officials should focus on rebuilding the city rather than hunting down unlawful workers.

"I want local and central government to show more urgency on the rebuild of Christchurch and if that means taking a lenient attitude toward people whose immigration status might not be up to scratch, in the peculiar situation which Christchurch faces, I would be all in favour of that," he said.

However, his controversial comments have been slammed by the city's migrant agencies as "gutless".

Patrick O'Connor, the co-director of Peeto, Christchurch's Multicultural Learning Centre, labelled Brash's suggestion as "anti-New Zealand".

"It is totally hypocrisy coming from a man who was the head of ACT (which is an acronym for the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers). If he is so mindful of protecting the rights of taxpayers in New Zealand, how can he turn around and advocate for illegal migrants who evade tax?" O'Connor asked.

Illegal migrant workers flouted tax laws, exposed themselves to exploitation and snatched jobs from Kiwis, he said.

Brash first announced his stand on migrant workers through social networking site Facebook after Fairfax reported fears of an illegal migrant scam taking root in Christchurch.

The story said national recruitment companies and Christchurch migrant agencies were aware of dozens of illegal migrants working on building sites around the city and that the rebuild had become a "priority" for Immigration New Zealand.

In response to the story, Brash posted: "I have to say that I couldn't give a damn about so-called illegal workers helping to rebuild Christchurch . . . If I had somebody helping to rebuild my home after almost two years of waiting for anything to be done, I wouldn't care what their immigration status was."

Brash, who now lives in Auckland, grew up in Christchurch and told The Press he was frustrated to hear his retired sister, who has been living in a caravan since the February 2011 earthquake, would not have her house repaired before Christmas.

"My feeling is, if this were war, everybody would be saying: ‘Look, we want all hands to the pump and if anybody is willing to work hard to help that's fantastic.'

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"We certainly wouldn't be turfing them out of a job. Rather than checking on the immigration status of every worker on a building site, I would be wanting to get on with the job of rebuilding Christchurch."

Immigration New Zealand said there was no need for employers involved in the rebuild to hire unlawful workers.

"This impacts on both the workers and the wider New Zealand community, and disadvantages law-abiding employers and New Zealand job-seekers," a spokeswoman said.

- The Press

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