I’m not a fan of Duncan Garner, the prominent New Zealand political commentator turned frontperson for +HR=E’s The AM Show morning breakfast show. I find his analysis to generally be quite shallow and his editorialising tends to be a rather ham-fisted attempt at political populism.
Last Saturday, Garner managed to outdo himself with a Fairfax opinion piece on the touchy political issue of immigration. From the laughably inane opening about shopping for underwear, he then described the group of people waiting at the checkout queue in the most extraordinarily insensitive fashion. He then rattled off a series of barely coherent one sentence paragraphs about how immigration might affect New Zealand and policies relating to immigration.
Condemnation has been swift, Garner quit Twitter because he couldn’t stand the blowback from his ridiculous article. I think Garner deserves all the criticism directed towards him, because his article lacked the nuance that the topic of immigration requires. He focused too much on deplorable objections to immigration such as listing off nationalities who he presumably thinks don’t fit in, coded appeals to “our legacy” and apocalyptic predictions of the future.
It is important to handle the topic of immigration with a great deal of sensitivity. Movement of people is a critical part of most national economies and a key facet of the careers and lifestyles of individuals. However, discussions on immigration brings the prejudice and racism of the public against other groups to the fore. When discussing immigration, I think it’s important to primarily keep two things in mind:
(1) Reciprocity. Consider what effect your preferred immigration policy would have on you if you were immigrating to another country? For example, with my career trajectory I could reasonably expect to find myself working overseas. Thus, it would be unfair for me to deny the same opportunity to others to come and work in New Zealand.
(2) Prejudice against ethnic groups is irrational and immoral. An immigration policy must not inhibit migrants according to their ethnicity. It must apply equally to everybody. Garner’s article implicitly failed this test since he wasn’t complaining about white British immigrants standing in the checkout queue.
There has been a reversal in political polarity in New Zealand regarding immigration. A cursory glace at American and European politics in particular will leave one with the general impression that the Left is supportive of immigration, while the political Right are against it. It’s almost the other way around in New Zealand. Labour campaigned on policies that would have the effect of reducing the number of people immigrating to New Zealand, while the National government has presided over record levels of net migration. As a partisan Leftist, I need to be able to explain that a reduction in the migration rate is not always a nefarious action committed only by deplorable racialists. Let’s go!
Population growth without investment and regulation only serves to generate misery for everyone. Infrastructure and housing supply have failed to keep up with demand. This harms both New Zealand citizens and recent migrants. Returning migration rates to earlier levels would give the government added scope to intervene in the economy to update infrastructure and increase the housing supply, alleviating the suffering of all people living in New Zealand.
Anti-immigration sentiment also tends to include faux-concern for the plight of local workers, characterised by the immortal South Park line “Dey took ‘er jerbs!”. Migrants have been blamed for pricing domestic workers out of the labour market. Such blame is misplaced. Lousy pay and work conditions are the fault of employers, not migrants. Many migrant workers have been exploited, a conscious decision made by employers and shareholders interested only in maximising their wealth.
Policies such as compulsory unionism for migrant workers and monitoring their working conditions would serve to reverse the exploitation that has been allowed to flourish under the National Party’s governance. Another worthwhile regulation would be something along the lines of: “have a go at training up an unemployed young person, then you can hire somebody from overseas”. This would create more opportunities for the youth of New Zealand who have a lot to be despondent about lately.
Such policies would likely reduce the net migration rate due to fewer work visas being approved, but could not be characterised as racist since any reduction in migration is not intentional. Those who do migrate to New Zealand deserve the same quality of life that citizens enjoy. It is a form of prejudice to deny them that.
It is indeed possible to discuss immigration in a responsible manner without people getting (rightfully) angry on Twitter. All one needs to do is show empathy, not express prejudice, and value the well-being of present and future migrants. Duncan Garner couldn’t do any of these things, so he shouldn’t complain that others have chosen to take issue with his remarks. We deserve better journalists.