When will Phil Goff get to the heart of Auckland's immigration woes?

by Graham Adams / 17 May, 2018
Opinion.
Phil Goff.

When Phil Goff campaigned for mayor two years ago, slowing immigration to curb Auckland's housing crisis was a large part of his platform. What happened? Photo / Getty Images

Auckland’s mayor is happy to see more and more immigrants stuffed into New Zealand’s biggest city despite his campaign rhetoric.

Auckland’s mayor, Phil Goff, has wasted no time in putting his recent heart attack to political use. Asked by Duncan Garner on The AM Show whether mass immigration was driving the vulnerable out of houses and into garages, Goff avoided answering the question directly. Instead, he used his hospital stay as a way of defending the government’s current immigration policy, which sees a net gain of more than 40,000 non-New Zealand citizens swelling Auckland’s population every year.

Goff: “I think it’s good that Auckland is growing… If we just stopped immigration, it would be a disaster. You know, I was in hospital just a couple of weeks ago. I tell you what, those hospitals would close down tomorrow if the doctors, the nurses, the ward staff, the ancillary staff… probably 60 to 70 per cent of them are migrants…” 

It was a classic avoidance technique plucked straight from John Key’s playbook of deflect and deny.

When Key was asked about skyrocketing immigration, he would often refer to the staffing needs of the IT and high-tech sector. It worked as a tactic until journalists discovered that the highly skilled immigrants we were told we were getting were heavily outnumbered by chefs, restaurant managers, shop workers and tour guides. It became obvious that there was plenty of room to cut immigration without harming the needs of high-skilled industries, including the medical workforce.

Unlike Key, however, who would bend the truth beyond breaking point without appearing even slightly discomfited, Goff had the good grace to look uncomfortable as he defended the indefensible to Garner.

Fortunately for him, Garner wasn’t cruel enough to play clips of his speeches pitching for the Auckland mayoralty. Right from his campaign opening at the Corban Estate in August 2016, Goff was telling audiences that immigration needed to be slowed to curb Auckland's growing housing crisis

It was a theme he reprised many times during the campaign, as well as citing the effect mass immigration was having on traffic congestion.

Now, barely two years later, the man who was going to take a megaphone to Wellington to insist the government listened to Aucklanders’ plaints has become a weak apologist for immigration levels and has betrayed his voters into the bargain.

He is now applauding Auckland’s growth and is claiming that the immigration tap can’t be turned down because we need more people flooding in to deal with the demand created by people flooding in.

Garner suggested that if the city can’t keep up with building infrastructure to cope with the influx, then the influx should be cut. "If you can't keep up, don't bring the people in," he said.

Goff replied lamely: “Well, yes, except some of the people that you’re going to be bringing in are the people who will contribute to the taxes and the skills and the energy and the effort to building your community.”

This appears to be a variation on the Vietnam War adage that recommended destroying a village in order to save it. Goff’s antipodean version: “To save Auckland we will have to destroy it by swamping it with newcomers who can help build it.”

Even Blind Freddie could see that the city’s economic viability and standard of living are plummeting as a result of heavy immigration. Long commutes are robbing Aucklanders of time with their families. Business productivity is hit as goods and services vehicles are stalled in slow traffic everywhere. Beaches are polluted as sewage overwhelms sewerage systems, and hospitals and schools are groaning under the onslaught. The city’s rapid expansion also eats up more and more valuable agricultural land for housing each year.

It’s true that immigrants pump up the tax take but all that money gets swallowed up in building the roads, hospitals, schools and other infrastructure required to support the swelling population. And the influx is so huge we will never be able to build houses or roads quickly enough to keep up with demand.

Even the gains of the giant Waterview tunnel complex have been quickly eroded. Goff himself admitted in early May — while championing a regional fuel tax of 11.5 cents a litre — that the new link had improved congestion for only three months. Traffic buildup is now just as bad as it was before it opened. That can hardly come as a surprise, of course, when Goff admits there are 800 new cars on Auckland’s roads each week.

Despite the extra billions of dollars from the fuel levy, planned transport projects are expected to only hold congestion, not improve it, over the next 10 years as the city’s population balloons by another 300,000. “We are running fast just to stand still,” Goff said.

The demand for expensive infrastructure has implications far beyond Auckland. In a nation with a low savings rate, more money has to be borrowed to pay for the new roads, schools and houses, which pushes up interest rates relative to those in the rest of the world, which in turn pushes up the exchange rate.

That means our exporters, who largely determine our standard of living, are less competitive than they would be with a lower exchange rate.

In his effort to deflect the question of whether mass immigration is fuelling homelessness by turning to his experience in hospital, Goff also inadvertently raised another area of contention: nursing.

He’s right that our hospitals are hugely dependent on foreign staff — so much so, in fact, that they are crowding out our own nursing graduates.

It has long been a bugbear for the NZ Nurses Organisation. As its website puts it: “Aotearoa New Zealand has an over-reliance on short-term, high-turnover immigration to fill nursing skills shortages. This is accompanied by under-employment of new graduates and a lack of investment in nursing career pathways.” 

I don’t know whether Goff talked to those caring for him in hospital about immigration but New Zealand-trained nurses have told me that DHBs like to employ foreign nurses in part because they are often more pliable when it comes to shift rosters and are less likely to be vocal in demanding better wages and conditions, not least because many intend to move on at some point.

Their observations were in no way critical of the professional standards of the immigrant nurses themselves or of their collegiality but simply made out of concern for those young people we are training — at a big cost to themselves and the taxpayer — and their own prospects within their profession.

It’s true that Goff doesn’t set immigration policy but he has a powerful platform as mayor of the nation’s biggest city to influence and persuade those who do — in particular the Prime Minister and her deputy.

Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters, of course, also both campaigned on cutting immigration and, like Goff, both have failed to act to fulfil their pledge or give any indication of when they might.

All the while, continuing massive immigration is pushing a clogged city towards a complete infarction, with no relief in sight.

 

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