Immi-what? Hysteria over immigration falls flat

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 09:41 22/06/2014
winston peters
SCOTT HAMMOND/ Fairfax NZ
POLITICAL TALK: NZ First leader Winston Peters.

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OPINION: Politicians' dog whistling on immigration is so high-pitched voters aren't picking it up.

The latest Stuff.co.nz/Ipsos poll shows that far from shaping up as this election's battle-ground, immigration is barely registering with voters.

Click here to view poll graphics.

Only 4 per cent of respondents listed it in the two most important issues facing the country. The traditional vote drivers - economy, jobs, education and health - continue to dominate.

Population growth is expected to accelerate this year, placing pressure on infrastructure - and crucially house prices. In May's Budget, Treasury growth forecasts have migration peaking at 41,500 in the December quarter.  An April paper from its wonks said monetary policy should be better tailored to the economy's ability to respond to population increase.

This set the Opposition off, banging the drums on housing affordability and migration. Labour is yet to finalise its immigration and population policy, but have suggested capping new arrivals would cool down the market.

Booming prices are certainly worrying voters (it was ranked as the 5th most important issue).

Politicians are talking it up as a significant issue. However, much of the debate is fuelled by a vacuum of information. And it has a very ugly face.

Labour announced in 2013 it would clamp down on overseas speculators. Proposals to bar non-residents from buying homes seem to resonate - two thirds said this would be ''somewhat'' or ''very effective''.

The Government doesn't keep official stats, but the best estimate is that just 4.5 per cent of housing stock is owned by people who don't live, or intend to live, in New Zealand.

Those Treasury numbers that got everyone so excited were gleaned  from arrival cards presented at international airports. Backpackers and students are among those who tick the box recording an intention to stay more than a year.

In fact, residence numbers are actually down more than 20 per cent in the last decade, dropping from under 51,000 to 31,000.

Winston Peters takes every opportunity to throw fuel on the immigration fire. In the past few week, he's claimed 68,000 elderly migrants who arrived through the ''parental reunion'' category, are eligible for super-annuation after only a decade of residence.

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With typically inflammatory language, he called this a ''free-ride'' inferring hoards of Chinese are draining the pension pot.

''Why is the minister and the Government encouraging one country to use New Zealand as a retirement home with all the benefits that most New Zealanders work 40 or more years for and pay for in their taxes?,'' he railed in Parliament.

But Peters was wrong. Figures show that in the last 10 years (only those from 2003 would be entitled) just over 43,000 have arrived under that category. Of those a number would have died, gone home, or have pension portability.
 
Peters' ill-founded hysteria and anti-Asian agenda, are a regular feature of election campaigns.

However, our poll suggests voters aren't blaming migrants for the current housing crisis. They also have a strong handle on the true picture - with most able to correctly pick how many migrants make up the population.

Even Peters own voters aren't convinced by this old trick - 92 per cent of his supporters don't rate immigration as a problem.

- Stuff

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