The Immigration Amendment Bill is nearing its final stages in the Select Committee and will be reported back by September. This was the bill that appeared from nowhere a couple of months back, right in the middle of the John Banks scandal. It was a dog whistle John Howard would have been proud of - designed by the government to divert attention and create a problem in people’s minds that doesn’t exist. The language in introducing the bill was of “queue jumpers” and “illegal migrants” and was about creating fear and prejudice.
The bill purports to prepare New Zealand for the unlikely event of a mass arrival (defined in the bill as more than 10 asylum seekers) and enables mass detention for up to six months. The explanatory note in the bill says that it will “enhance New Zealand’s ability to deter people-smuggling to New Zealand by making it as unattractive as possible to people-smugglers and the people to whom they sell their services”.
But the Bill has no provisions for sanctions against the activity of people-smuggling, but instead focuses on imposing sanctions on asylum seekers who arrive in New Zealand as part of a deemed “mass arrival”, by contrast with those who do not.
Meanwhile, the government has carried out ”Exercise Barrier” at a cost of $200,000, which apparently tested New Zealand’s systems in the event of a mass arrival. The very name, “Barrier” and the photos of Customs and other officials pretending this was an SAS like military exercise say a lot.
Submitters on the bill have been overwhelmingly opposed to this bill and will probably be overwhelmingly ignored.
We have been warned that the provisions in this bill could be a political football in the way they have become in Australia. We have also been warned that New Zealand’s international reputation and compliance with the Refugee Convention will come under intense scrutiny.
Canada recently enacted a similar kind of bill. It was extremely divisive and controversial and it’s probably no coincidence that the Canadian Act’s author, Jason Kenny, visited New Zealand last year and spent time with our Immigration and other Ministers.
New Zealand is better than this.