Newsroom Pro's 8 things at 8: Migration debate turns ugly after new record high

A poster for a New Zealand First rally on a fence in South Auckland. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

In today's email we detail another batch of migration statistics, and the stoush they set off.

1. Another migration record

Statistics New Zealand reported
another record high for net migration yesterday, firing up the election debate again over migration.

Net migration in the month of March was 4,878, up from 4,279 in March a year ago and 4,051 in March 2014. Net migration in the year to March rose to 71,932 from 67,619 the previous year and 56,275 in the year before that.

Residence visas rose to 16,763 in the year to March, up 13.8 percent from a year ago, while student visas fell 13.9 percent to 23,861, in part due to a recent crackdown on student visa fraud in India. Student visa numbers from India fell 37.8 percent to 6,108 in the year to March.

Work visa arrivals rose 13.2 percent to 43,275.

2. Herald vs Winston

The latest migration figures also triggered an ugly skirmish between the New Zealand Herald and Winston Peters.

The Herald's Harkanwal Singh and Lincoln Tan wrote an article arguing that Statistics NZ's figures showed Europe was the major source of work visas, not Asia.

Peters then put out a press release accusing the Herald of publishing alternative facts and the two "Asian immigrant reporters" of writing propaganda.

"The reporters Lincoln Tan and Harkanwal Singh base their defective analysis on data from arrival/departure cards (which doesn’t disclose where the applicant originally came from), not on the number of work visas issued, outstanding or yet to be acted upon by their departure," Peters wrote.

"They take no account that many people change their visas while in New Zealand and that a lot of those who come here on student visas - nearly all on permanent long term visas - have work rights. When these migrants complete their studies they can get a ‘study to work’ visa," he wrote.

"The NZ Herald does not make it known that Statistics New Zealand publish data by previous country of residence, not country of citizenship, so entering from Australia does not make them Australian which is the flimsy conclusion the two Herald reporters relied upon."

In response, Singh and Tan hit back at Peters, saying they had used Statistics New Zealand data in their analysis.

"It is easier for a politician to attack us based on our ethnicities than saying that immigration is a complex and nuanced issue which requires more evidence-based research and better use of data," they wrote.

Editor Murray Kirkness backed them up: "Peters would best be advised to try to grasp the complexity of the issues, and make a useful contribution to the immigration debate, rather than playing the race card or taking a wildly desperate swing at the media."

The basis of the dispute is that Peters is referring to MBIE numbers based on actual work visa numbers that are only released in summary form once a year, while the Herald used monthly Statistics NZ numbers, which are based on the data collected from arrival cards.

The MBIE data is ultimately more accurate because it refers to actual work visas issued and the original source of the migrant, rather than the last departure point, which is often Australia for migrants in transit.

Michael Reddell's analysis earlier yesterday looked in detail at the difference in the figures, and backed up his earlier call for MBIE to release the actual visa figures monthly.

It was a new low for Peters to use the ethnicity of the reporters to attack their reporting, but the point made by Reddell and Peters about the flawed nature of the Statistics New Zealand data is accurate.

MBIE should release its monthly visa numbers in a more digestible form monthly.

3. Electricity back-down

The Electricity Authority announced another delay to controversial plans for transmission pricing reforms that would increase prices in Auckland and Northland and cut prices in Southland.

This followed the discovery of flawed cost-benefit analysis done for the Authority by Australian consulting firm Oakley Greenwo0d.

CEO Carl Hanson said the Authority had decided to re-do the analysis, which would be ready for consultation in late 2017 or early 2018. A final decision was planned in the first half of 2018, with implementation by April 2020.

That effectively delays the decisions until well after the election, which the Government will privately welcome given a heated campaign by business groups and New Zealand First against the changes.

4. Bascand elevated

The Reserve Bank announced Deputy Governor Geoff Bascand has been appointed Head of Financial Stability and Deputy Chief Executive with effect from September 27.

The change follows the elevation of Grant Spencer to the acting Governor role in the wake of Governor Graeme Wheeler not seeking a second term.

5. 'A medieval approach'

The big story today is the release of a damning official report on segregation and restraint across detention facilities.

Our National Affairs Editor Shane Cowlishaw goes in depth into the report here on Newsroom Pro.

Ordered by the Human Rights Commission, the report was undertaken by international expert Dr Sharon Shalev and contains concerning observations, Shane reports.

Tie-down beds in prisons and restraint chairs in police cells, contraptions described as “medieval” by the author, are used too frequently, Shalev says.

6. Water trading is already happening

Newsroom's Health and Environment reporter Eloise Gibson has a deeply reported piece on water trading on Newsroom, which is well worth a read.

In the absence of charges from central or local Government, a market for water has sprung up anyway, Eloise reports.

One consultancy, Hydro Traders, is helping landowners sell water from the Selwyn-Waimakiriri and Selwyn-Rakaia areas in amounts usually ranging from 50 million to 500 million litres a year (50,000- 500,000 cubic metres) for prices of roughly $50,000 to $500,000 (based on the ten most recent sales).

One particularly large trade in 2015 allowed the buyer to take more than 2 billion litres of water annually from the Hurunui River, with a daily limit of 15 million litres. Wellington City, by comparison, uses 30 billion litres of water a year for household and industrial purposes.

7. While you were sleeping

Hard on the heels of imposing a 20 percent tariff on Canadian log imports, President Donald Trump is considering a draft executive order to withdraw the United States from NAFTA, Reuters reported overnight.

Trump's economic advisers unveiled proposals overnight for a cut in the US corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent and three new lower income tax brackets for individuals. The plan, which is far from a done deal because it needs to pass a deeply divided Congress, did not include a controversial 'border adjustment tax' on imports, the New York Times reported.

8. One fun thing

President Donald Trump is the gift that keeps giving for comedians everywhere and Late Show host Stephen Colbert in particular.

This monologue of his from Wednesday is a gem, in part because it focuses on Trump's rambling and incomprehensible interview with AP. The transcript of the interview is now famous in its own right, because it lists the phrase unintelligible 16 times.

I've linked in the past to transcripts of Trump's interviews and I'd recommend trying to read at least one to get a sense of Trump's train(s) of thought...

Amy Davidson does a good job in this piece for the New Yorker of unravelling the actual substance in the interview.

Have a great day. FYI, we'll be reporting on the Newsroom Pro site this afternoon from Finance Minister Steven Joyce's Budget Preview speech in Wellington.