Hive News Monday: Greens want migration target for 1% population growth

Green Party Co-leader James Shaw. Copyright Lynn Grieveson / Hive News

Over the weekend the Green Party moved its migration policy closer to New Zealand First's and more in tune with Labour's talk of tightening migration by announcing a novel policy of targeting migration in a variable way that would result in 1% population growth.

Co-Leader James Shaw announced the policy in an interview with Lisa Owen on The Nation on Saturday.

"We think that the country needs a more sustainable immigration policy, so what we would do is to set a variable approvals target based on a percentage of the overall population, and so that would be at about 1% of the population, which is historically how fast New Zealand’s population has grown," Shaw said.

"So what we would do is we’d say, well, if you look at a period like at the moment, when you’ve got lots of Kiwis coming home and not many leaving, then the number of approvals would be much lower, and in other years it would be much higher," he said.

Given the current population, that would imply population growth of around 45,000, including the migration home and away of New Zealanders to and from overseas, which cannot be restricted, along with natural population. Shaw said the 1% population growth policy would mean that net migration of non-New Zealand citizens would therefore be around 17,000 to 20,000 migrants this year, down from the current net migration of around 70,000.

Currently close to NZ First target

New Zealand First's current policy is for net migration of around 10,000 to 15,000.

New Zealand's population actually grew 2.0% last year, including growth through net migration of around 1.5% and natural population growth of 0.5%. There were a net 2,588 New Zealand citizens who emigrated in the year to August, down from 28,375 in the year to August 2013, while the number of temporary work visa and student visa migrants rose by 22,254 to 65,737 over the same period.

"The whole idea here is to try and smooth out the peaks and troughs," Shaw said.

"If you look at government policy, what they do is they try and say, well, there should be about 45-55,000 a year, but that sits on top of movements in the general population, which is why you have these big peaks and troughs," he said.

"And that’s why people are getting concerned about it this year – because it’s having an outsize impact on house prices, on infrastructure and on wages, actually."

Shaw said the numbers coming in under such a variable migration target could rise to 30,000 if the net migration of New Zealanders was to return to previous levels.

He rejected suggestions of a hard stop to migration from levels of around 70,000 now down to 30,000 or 17,000.

"You’d need to manage it down slowly, so we wouldn’t say that next year it should suddenly drop by that amount. What you want is to sort of smooth it down so that we get back to the kind of sustainable population growth that we’ve had over the past few decades," he said.

House price effect?

Shaw said such a drop would not necessarily have a big impact on house prices.

"Changes in migration flows to the equivalent of 1% of population actually push up house prices by about 6-12%, so it’s significant and noticeable, but it’s not 100%," he said.

"It’s not a huge outside number. If you smooth that number down, you’re gonna put less pressure on house prices the way that we’ve seen over the course of the last sort of 12-24 months."

Shaw said he'd talked to Labour about the policy, "and they seem comfortable with the idea."

Fewer overseas student places?

He did not give specifics on exactly which parts of the migration mix would be tweaked to achieve the 1% population growth, given the Government now has a planning range for permanent residency of 85,000 to 95,000 for the next two years, but does not have targets or caps for temporary work visas or student visas. Last week it temporarily suspended parental visa applications and lowered the planning range by 5,000. It is also reviewing work testing for work visas and student visa numbers.

A variable migration target implies constant tweaking of targets for permanent residency visas, both for skilled migrants and their families, along with targets for temporary work visas and student visas. Some elements cannot be controlled, including net migration of New Zealand citizens and working holidaymaker visas, given New Zealand has bilateral agreements with many countries that allow unfettered movements of such visas.

Shaw suggested student visas as one area that could be changed.

"We think that the government is actually barking up the wrong tree by putting the pressure on the family category," he said.

"There’s huge numbers of students that are coming into New Zealand on temporary work visas and that’s actually where a lot of the pressure is coming from, especially on housing and on transport infrastructure."

Winston claims credit and accuses Greens of hypocritical back-flip

New Zealand First put out a self-congratulatory press release after Shaw's announcement, and accused Shaw of hypocrisy.

"The Greens have always stood on a pedestal, looking down their noses, claiming the high moral ground as New Zealand First warned that immigration was strangling our public services, cutting Kiwis out of jobs, and helping push house prices up," Peters said.

“What a turnaround we saw today. The party that claims it’s for as much diversity in the population as we can get reveals there are problems with a soaring population," he said.

“Who will call who racist and xenophobic now? It appears the Greens, like Labour, have had a Road to Damascus experience on policies they pushed for decades. But you simply can’t trust them."

In other economic and financial news...

In a sign the Reserve Bank's third round of LVR restrictions targeting landlords has yet to have a major impact, ANZ published the results of its annual survey of rental property investors on Friday, including that two-thirds of investors planned to buy again. The survey found 57% of Auckland investors planned to buy in the next two years and 53% of investors nationally planned to buy again in the next two years.

The survey found 31% said LVR restrictions had affected their strategies over the last year, up from 16% in the previous year. The house value increases and the LVR restrictions have, however, reduced the indebtedness of investors, with 53% saying their LVR had fallen over the past year and only 18% saying they had an LVR over 75% -- down from 27% in 2015.

Nick Smith announced on Saturday the Government was considering changes to the Residential Tenancies Act in response to recent court rulings which have meant landlords cannot recover the costs of damage to properties where they have insurance, including for their costs such as the excess. Smith said he was considering proposing that tenants would be liable for damage caused by carelessness or negligence up to the value of their landlord’s insurance excess, but not exceeding four weeks’ rent.

Coming up...

John Key is scheduled to hold his weekly post-cabinet news conference at 4 pm today.

Statistics New Zealand is scheduled to publish September quarter inflation figures at 10.45 am on Tuesday. Economists expect 0.0% quarterly inflation and annual inflation of 0.1%.

Fonterra's Gobaldairytrade is scheduled to hold its next fortnightly auction early on Wednesday morning.

Statistics New Zealand is scheduled to publish visitor arrivals and net migration figures for September on Friday at 10.45 am.

Tweet of the day:

Andrea:

Per WaPo, "Donald Trump now says 'a global power structure' is out to stop him." We are, but most people just call us women.

Have a great week. Look out below for my weekend column again. I gave a sneak preview on Thursday, but for the sake of consistency, here it is on a Monday as per usual.

cheers

Bernard

17 October 2016