Dr Arama Rata

The Māori Party’s stance on immigration has disappointed some of its would-be supporters, among them Dr Arama Rata, Senior Research Fellow at Waikato University’s National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis.


Last week, the Māori Party released their Whānau Build policy. Amid sensible recommendations to address our housing crisis, there was one major stuff-up: curbing immigration until housing meets demand. Here’s a countdown of the top five reasons this policy line is cabbage.

1. Immigration is ALREADY curbed

Global travel restrictions in response to Covid-19 have effectively halted immigration to Aotearoa. For the month of June 2020, net migration was 500

That’s 0.01 per cent of the figure from the previous year. With no end to travel restrictions on the horizon, why do we need a policy to reduce immigration? 

What’s more, the Māori Party’s policy doesn’t specify how they’ll determine when housing supply has met demand. Thus the policy is poorly defined and doesn’t actually DO anything. At all.

2. Immigration was FALLING pre-Covid

Yes, yes, we’ve had unprecedented immigration in recent years. But annual net migration (the number of arrivals minus the number of departures) reached a peak in 2016, and has been falling ever since (until Covid-19 hit — but that’s another story). 

While politicians love to cherry-pick statistics to whip voters into xenophobic frenzies, net migration is highly volatile and largely determined by economic factors. Even millenials like me recall when we had NEGATIVE net migration — it was only eight years ago — and John Key was desperate to stop “Kiwis” moving to Australia

So whether we like immigration or not, we don’t need a policy to reduce it.

3. Immigration is NOT the cause of our housing crisis

All the smart people seem to agree that our housing crisis has been caused by decades of government inaction that has allowed house prices to become grossly inflated. This inaction has included failure to build state houses, failure to subsidise new builds, failure to invest in infrastructure for new housing, and failure to implement a capital gains tax. (When the Māori Party voted in favour of selling off thousands of state homes, that also didn’t help, just saying.) 

Many of the solutions put forward in the Whānau Build policy actually address these issues, so it’s a shame the overemphasis on immigration detracts from the other reasonable suggestions.

4. It’s racist AF 

So, if barely anyone is entering the country, and immigration isn’t causing the housing crisis, why include border closure in a housing policy? 

Well, I guess it’s pretty obvious, really. Votes. It’s easy to appeal to the little (or not so little) racist in all of us — to blame a group of “others” for our woes and punish “them”, so “we” don’t have to sort out our own kaka. 

But scapegoating migrants only inflames inter-group tensions, and won’t solve our housing crisis.

5. Everyone’s doing it

These days, if you’re going to do some racist scapegoating, you really have to push the cart out to distinguish yourself. Labour came to power in 2017 after campaigning to reduce immigration, and the Greens put a cap on immigration (before apologising and rescinding the policy). 

This election, National, too, is focusing on “securing our border”. But it’s the smaller parties that punch above their weight when it comes to racist scapegoating. Why would I vote for low-rent Māori Party racism, when I can reach for some good old-fashioned, top-shelf New Zealand First xenophobia? 

Why would I believe in the Māori Party, when I can follow Vision NZ’s brand of Christian nationalism that’s anti-immigration at its core? 

And why would I settle for a temporary border closure, when I can get a hit of the newest conspiracy theories flooding the streets that echo the global alt right? And that’s to say nothing of Act and New Conservative, who are hard to outdo.

I want to believe in the Māori Party. Their policy on constitutional transformation is, well, transformational. But if they’re just intent on replacing white supremacy with white supremacy administered by brown folk, what even is the point? 

Voting for the general election has now opened. And don’t get me wrong — I do want an independent Māori voice in parliament. But I also want that voice to be a little less racist.


Dr Arama Rata belongs to Ngāruahine, Taranaki, and Ngāti Maniapoto. She is the Senior Research Fellow at the National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis, University of Waikato, where she specialises in iwi connectedness, Māori voting, Māori-migrant relations, and settler-colonial racism.

© E-Tangata, 2020

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