PM plays symbolic immigration card

Last updated 11:26 04/06/2014

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It was a half-promise. Almost no promise at all. But Prime Minister John Key's announcement yesterday his Government was looking at increasing the recognised seasonal employer scheme had all the symbolic force he wanted.

OPINION: It served to drive home the message that he had an open attitude to migration - in contrast to the self-inflicted damage done by Labour, which is yet to announce its full immigration policy.

So far it has only talked of immigration as one of the economic levers it could pull to take the heat out of house prices.

Until David Cunliffe does outline his full plan, Key has a ready-made stick to beat him with.

Most Pacific voters in the crucial South Auckland seats still cleave to the Opposition, although second and third-generation immigrants are casting a glance or two more across the political divide than they ever did with Helen Clark in the Beehive.

Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa stirred the pot by ticking off Labour for a policy that would harm New Zealand - much to the chagrin of Labour's David Shearer and Mangere MP Su'a William Sio who are part of the New Zealand delegation and were adamant Labour's plans were misunderstood and would not hit Pacific migration numbers.

The semi-promise, made by Key after a visit to the remote Poutasi village on his two-day trip to Samoa, really only amounted to a review.

If there is an increase in RSE numbers, it will be small and mostly to take account of the re-entry of Fiji to the scheme once it has held democratic elections later this year.

A lift from 8000 now to 10,000 is on the cards, leaving little for countries like Samoa, but in villages like Poutasi, where half the people have been to New Zealand on the RSE, bringing back about $5000 each, even a small lift in Samoa's 1100 quota would be welcome.

It was just one of the symbolic bases touched by Key on the first leg of his Pacific mission that now heads to Tonga and finally to Niue.

At Poutasi, he took part in a traditional Ava (kava) ceremony and placed flowers on the memorial to the 2009 tsunami victims.

He was able to parade Shane Jones; the economic ambassador who may have to hose down expectations he can solve the region's problems - from tuna fishing to long-running quarantine problems.

But it is the immigration issue where Key clearly sees a chance to wedge Labour. If he does not immediately win ground in South Auckland, at least he can put doubts in the minds of the voters who could make such a difference if they turned out en masse.

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- The Dominion Post


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