Report – By Michael Sergel and Finian Scott
A Samoan cabinet minister has called on New Zealand to make it easier for Pacific people to migrate to the country, but Deputy Prime Minister Bill English says New Zealand workers must come first.
Samoan MP and former North Shore City councillor Tafua Maluelue Tafua has used a speech on media reform at a Pacific leaders forum to call for a rethink on New Zealand immigration policy.
“New Zealand and Samoa are good friends, but Samoans have to spend $200 to get a visa to New Zealand,” Afiago Tafua told delegates, adding that many people in Samoa would struggle to save that much money during an average year.
“We of course have to balance the interests of our own people who struggle to find employment with the longer term relationships and the economic development of the Pacific,” English said.
“It’s in our interests to reinforce your economies. There’s no point in us feeling like we’re doing well if the 6 million people in our part of the Pacific aren’t doing well.”
The immigration system makes it easier for people to come to New Zealand from Australia than from former New Zealand territories like Samoa.
Representative Archie Soliai from American Samoa told the forum that his country and New Zealand – “built on the backs of imported Samoan labour” – needed to value Samoan migrants.
The immigration system of New Zealand and the wellbeing of Pasifika New Zealanders have been hot talking points during the six-day Pacific Parliamentary and Political Leaders Forum in Wellington at the weekend – despite the official focus being on economic and social issues in other Pacific countries.
Delegates have been told about the health problems disproportionately affecting Pasifika New Zealanders permanently settled in the country – before talking firsthand to seasonal workers from the Solomon Islands.
During a special sitting of Parliament on Thursday, party leaders and MPs told delegates that New Zealand was committed to promoting the welfare of Pasifika people, and had moved on a long way from the Dawn Raids of the 1970s.
New Zealand delegate Phil Goff suggested that the Pacific needed a regional Parliament – as Mike Moore first proposed two decades ago – but the new regional community might not have the open migration laws of the European Union.
“We know that it doesn’t make sense for 22 relatively small countries to work separately, but who knows what the model of a Pacific parliament would be,” he told delegates.
The effect of climate change on low-lying Pacific Islands – a key reason why more open migration might be considered – has also been addressed in the forum.
Kiribati MP Martin Moreti told the forum that the depletion of coastal fisheries and land crops are having a serious effect on the country, and New Zealand Green MP Kennedy Graham said John Key’s promise to consider climate refugee claims may have to be acted on sooner than he would like.
However, Niue MP Va’iaga Tokuitonga told delegates that depopulation – through emigration and falling birth rates – was the most serious threat faced by the country.
Michael Sergel and Finian Scott are Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student journalists at AUT University. They are covering the Pacific politics forum for Pacific Scoop and the Pacific Media Centre as an Asia-Pacific Journalism assignment. Read their live blog:
Source: Pacific Media Watch 8266