OPINION: Is David Cunliffe stealing from the Winston Peters play book as John Key claims?
By making immigration controls an election issue the Labour leader risks tapping into the vein that has sustained NZ First for years.
In 1996, Peters targeted Asian New Zealanders with a speech attacking "rows of ostentatious houses" in parts of Auckland; in 1999 he said immigrants were to blame for Auckland's infrastructure problems and depleted shellfish beds; in 2002 it was immigration in general that was a ticking time bomb and in 2005 he wondered aloud if Queen St was New Zealand or another country.
What's missing from Labour's attack on immigration is the ugly rhetoric that usually accompanies Peters on his soapbox.
But thanks to soaring property prices, immigration appears to have become a hot button topic again.
Both TV One and 3 News have run polls showing a majority of people want the rules tightened, suggesting Labour has been calculated in picking up on an issue that resonates with middle New Zealand. But it could have a tiger by the tail.
The essence of Labour's argument is that governments always have the ability to turn the immigration tap on and off in response to economic conditions - and a projected boom means National has its hands on the tap now.
Key's response is that the boom is a good-news story and largely driven by fewer Kiwis leaving, rather than a sudden explosion in the number of migrants entering New Zealand.
Key has also ratcheted up the stakes by claiming that Labour's policy would ban skilled migrants, family members entering under the family reunification policy and thousands of Pacific migrants who come to to New Zealand.
That seems unlikely - but Key's claim is calculated to stir up the fears among Labour's ethnic support base, many of whom are likely to be recent migrants to NZ. That may be why Cunliffe seemed yesterday to be talking a softer line.
- The Dominion Post