1493399352003 - Duncan Garner: Packed to the rafters, an expensive addiction to immigration

Duncan Garner: Packed to the rafters, an expensive addiction to immigration

OPINION: Every 3 minutes and 37 seconds New Zealand’s population grows by another person, according to Statistics NZ. 

This week the population was ticking past 4,792,550. 

In the time it takes you to read this column another person will call New Zealand home. By the time you head to work on Monday morning you can add another 1000.

We are now the fastest-growing country in the OECD. That’s because we make it easy. We welcome immigrants, we welcome their families, we want their businesses – and their money. At all costs.

READ MORE:
* Too many migrants? No way
* A glossary of terms in the immigration debate
* Immigration debate: please leave your logic at the border

I see it every day in a choking, chaotic and paralysed Auckland. The Government’s embraced immigration – but has in no way built the housing and relevant infrastructure to support the ad-hoc, free-for-all open-door policy. 

Infrastructure expert Stephen Selwood noted this week that given our population increase we need to be building a city the size of Nelson every year just to keep up, along with all its relevant highways, roads, drains, footpaths and houses. 

We’re not even close to doing this. Our public policy-makers have let us all down. Big time. That’s despite National’s piecemeal infrastructure announcement this week, which is merely a drop in the ocean. 

It’s a disaster. We need a proper debate about our population. What is the ideal size of our country? Is it 6 million? Is it 8 million? And how fast do we want to get there? 

We need a public conversation about the size of our country, we needed it more than a debate about our bloody flag. And we still need it. 

Once again no-one is leading this debate. Andrew Little and Winston Peters want to cut tens of thousands of immigrants every year – but businesses say that would bring them to their knees. 

Is Peters and Little’s prescription even doable? Sure it is. But it’s a radical departure from the past few years. And only a handful of highly skilled immigrants would make it  across our border. 

So we have a few screaming, desperate politicians and a Government full of “immigration-lickspittles” pretending to rein it in, thinking it might win them a few votes from an increasingly concerned public. I no longer know who to believe.

With immigration, some people win – but as many economists point out, many Kiwis lose out with rising house prices and foreigners competing for jobs.

We shouldn’t resent these immigrants. It’s not their fault. They’re just trying to find a better life. They’re ambitious for success. Good on them. Who doesn’t want a better life?

The guy who cuts my hair for $15 a pop, Michael, is a hard-working recent arrival from China. He followed his sister here and works his backside off. He came because he wanted to improve his life. I really like him. 

I got my daughter braces this week – there were four other women in the surgery, all of them Indian. That would have been surprising 20 years ago. Not now. It’s normal. 

My son goes to a school where 24 languages are spoken in the playground. Welcome to Auckland. And welcome to the new New Zealand. 

We need immigrants. They’re hard workers. And overwhelmingly the stats show they are not over-represented in crime.

Here’s the stat that got me this week:  For the year to March we issued 43,000 work visas, yet we have 140,000 Kiwis unemployed or wanting more hours. 

I just don’t get it. If we have people available for work, why the hell aren’t we making them work? 

Clearly our employers prefer immigrants, our welfare system is encouraging lazy Kiwis to sit at home, and maybe a market economy like ours prefers keeping 140,000 unemployed while we bring in cheaper, hard-working foreigners. I sense all of the above is true. 

I’m all for building this country. But let’s build it properly if we’re going to stuff it full of people. 

And just how many people do we want? What is our sweet spot? And where should these people live? 

It’s an understatement to say we need a proper public discussion.  And it goes without saying we lack leaders who can properly steer this debate. 

Just don’t give it to desperate politicians with their thumbs out looking for votes.