Newsroom Pro's 8 things at 8: a big migration debate

International students, workers and shoppers wait to cross Queen St. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

In today's email we dive into the migration debate, look at the resurgence of the homelessness issue, and find that fixing our waterways is going to be an expensive, slow process.

1. A big debate is looming

This election year debate is focused on two issues -- migration and housing. They are inter-connected in Auckland, along with the infrastructure shortages that are slowing down traffic and the new supply of houses.

This winter the focus on homelessness in Auckland will be a major topic ahead of the election on September 23. See more on that below.

But on migration the debate is still floundering over what could or should be done to deal with record high net migration that has stayed stronger for longer than most expected.

So our National Affairs Editor Shane Cowlishaw has taken a deep dive into the issue to understand the pressure points in the debate and where it might go next.

He finds it will be much harder than Winston Peters and others say to reduce net migration.

2. So how would he do it?

Peters has promised to cut net migration from over 71,000 per year to between 7,000 and 15,000, but is frustratingly short on details on how it would be done.

He wouldn't give us those details, but it's clear from Shane's research that there is very little room to cut without significant economic damage.

Of the 127,305 people who arrived for a long-term stay in 2016, just under a third were New Zealand or Australian citizens. No cuts can be made there.

About 20 percent were on student visas, a lucrative source of income as mentioned above - so any reduction would be a serious decision. About 13 percent were on residence visas and a third on work visas.

The latter seems the most open to any squeeze, but again a third of workers were here on working holiday visas and clamping down on those would mean the end to reciprocal agreements for New Zealanders.

I'd recommend a read of Shane's substantial piece, which also includes some excellent graphics from FigureNZ. Many thanks to them.

3. Tweaks to work tests

Labour is also being cautious about its recommendations for changes to the rules for migration, particularly around temporary work visas that may or may be work-tested.

That's partly because the Government has yet to show its hand.

The Government has promised more tweaks to the way employers are tested to see if they could employ locals instead of overseas workers. It tightened the points system for permanent residency applications last year and toughened English language rules, as well as suspending the parental applications category.

How the Government tweaks those work test rules will set off the next round of the debate.

4. A tough winter ahead

The most intense questioning for Prime Minister Bill English yesterday was around the upcoming winter of homelessness in Auckland, which is set to be the prelude for a late winter and early spring election debate.

There was even talk yesterday of setting up safe car parks and shower facilities so people could safely and cleanly live in their cars.

English said the Government was going as fast as it could.

"There’s going to be some cases because you always get some people whose lives are severely disrupted," English said of the talk of more Aucklanders living in their cars this winter.

"Some of whom just can’t find an answer to their problem today. But the same groups are working closely with the government to get as many places as possible available as we go into the winter. A few years ago there was no formalised emergency housing at all. Now there is, at scale, and we think that will meet a fair bit of the need, and let’s hope everyone can find a place," he said.

"All the community groups who were last year dealing with this issue are fully engaged with the government getting the solutions in place, everyone is going as fast as they can."

5. 6,000 in need

The Government is spending $300 million on emergency housing, including buying and renting motel rooms and putting up pre-fab houses.

But Social Housing Minister Amy Adams said 6,000 people were on the housing register.

"A lot of them currently have housing already and they are just looking for more suitable housing," she said.

"The emergency places are for those who don’t have safe and secure housing, and if we need to put them in motels in the short term then we will but our preference is very much to get them into permanent facilities."

6. 'A big job ahead'

The Prime Minister's Chief Science Adviser Peter Gluckman came out this morning with a detailed look at the state of New Zealand's fresh water ways.

Eloise Gibson reports at Newsroom on how Gluckman concludes concluded cleaning the waterways is going to be expensive, complicated and slow.

It could take up to a century to reap rewards in places like Rotorua, Gluckman finds.

7. Not that daft...

Newsroom Co-Editor Tim Murphy has a look at the Hagaman vs Little defamation case and concludes juries can be daft, but they weren't that daft in this case.

The Hagamans may be better off not taking the case any further, he writes.

"The Hagamans may well be bloody-minded enough to take the rump of the jury's decision against Little further - to make him pay. But that has reputational risks, and not for the Labour leader," Tim writes.

8. Food for thought

The global debate over inequality assumes that people don't want inequality. This article in Nature actually finds people want inequality. However, they don't want unfairness with it.

Have a great day