Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on Winston Peters’ latest bout of immigrant bashing, and Bob Dylan in the basement (again)

August 28th, 2014

So in the latest 3News-Reid Research poll, New Zealand First and the Conservatives have been the big winners. It is only one poll, but rather than cannibalising each other’s vote, Colin Craig and Winston Peters do seem to be managing to find the room to co-exist. For all the talk among minority centre-left parties about growing the vote, the momentum among the minority parties appears to be down at the other end of the political spectrum. Any cannibilisation going on would appear to be of National’s vote, down to 45% in this poll.

Poll fixation though, is a symptom of horse race journalism. To date, the focus has been on the poll numbers for New Zealand First – at 6.3% in this latest poll – and the power that this puts in Peters’ hands. Few are questioning how he’s got to this happy place, and what it says about the mood of the electorate. Yet as sure as night follows day, Winston Peters is once again peddling bile at the immigrants in our midst. On TVNZ’s Q&A programme last weekend, Peters claimed to be the voice of reason on immigration policy – ‘So, all I’m asking for is a debate – and dare I say it– some common sense.’ On Q & A, his two prime targets were (a) our intake of unskilled and /or unproductive migrants and (b) the foreign students attending our educational institutions.

On foreign students, Peters put it this way on Q&A. The incoherence is in the original:

What is export education? If 79,000 student visas are given out to work in this country – where’s the export education now? Our economy is paying for those foreign students to be educated in this country. That’s not export education. Meanwhile, we have tens of thousands of New Zealand students who are not getting any job at all. So all I’m asking for is a debate – and dare I say it – some common sense.

Peters was deliberately conflating two things (a) foreigners on student visas and (b) youth unemployment among New Zealanders, as if one is a significant cause of the other. It isn’t. The key sentence was that line about “Our economy is paying for those foreign students to be educated in this country.” Again, it isn’t. Foreign students are not a cost to the New Zealand economy. Foreign students pay to come here. They’re worth $2.6 billion a year to our economy, according to this September 2013 report by Infometrics.

Forget the job displacement allegation, too. Directly and indirectly, fee-paying foreign students support an estimated 28,000 jobs in this country. If anything, the economic benefits from foreign students are on the increase. During the first trimester (January to April) alone in 2014, foreign students added another $100 million in value to the domestic economy, $40 million of it in tuition fees alone.

Of course, Peters knows that he’s talking rubbish. He tried the same argument in Parliament in early July and came unstuck on that occasion too:

Rt Hon Winston Peters : If the Government is, as it claims, working for New Zealand and New Zealanders, then can he explain how export education works when 79,000 international students get to pay for a New Zealand education with income from the New Zealand economy? How does that work?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : For a start off, when people come to New Zealand as part of export education, they actually pay to be here. That is why it is worth about $2.6 billion. Secondly, there probably are a few students who come to New Zealand and who choose to work in restaurants and bars and cafes and motels and all sorts of other things. That just shows how industrious they are. But if the member would prefer that no one comes to New Zealand, then he is harking back to a day when moa used to freely walk through the forests of New Zealand.

Immigrant bashing in general – and bashing foreign students in particular – is just another form of Dirty Politics. It is totally hypocritical for Peters to bemoan the revelations of Nicky Hager’s book, even while he continues to trawl for votes in this fashion, by whipping up resentment towards migrants.

The breakdown of those “79,000 international students” is pretty interesting in its own right. For the year ended December 2013, my tally is 80,552 – made up of 24,375 at our universities, 12,377 at what are essentially our technical training institutions and polytechnics, and 43,800 at PTEs, or private training establishments. So, the majority of the foreign students in New Zealand are attending and paying fees at private sector learning institutions, not at state-funded ones. Why does Peters have such a burning problem with that?

The reality is that the fees paid by foreign students – and those fees are paid at primary schools, secondary schools and at tertiary level – help to support our public schools, universities and polytechnics, to the benefit of all New Zealanders. Thanks to the input from foreign students. taxpayers get to pay less to support education, So far, I haven’t even mentioned the ‘long run’ benefits of export education. Yet ever since the Colombo Plan kicked into gear in the 1950s, New Zealand has gained from the long term commercial and political relationships forged with foreign students who spend their formative years here and go back to join the commercial and political elites in their countries of origin. Many of the foreign alumni from our education system then function – for the rest of their lives – as virtual cheerleaders and useful commercial contacts for this country.

In a further dimension of this reciprocity… Many countries that have had a significant foreign student presence in this country – eg China – are now planning to increase the extent to which they educate their students at home, within their own borders. This means that “export education” cannot in future be merely about attracting foreign students here. New Zealand will increasingly be looking at selling its educational expertise (in training and teaching) into Asian and Latin American countries. Again, our experience with foreign students here – and the role played by alumni over there – is helping to keep New Zealand globally competitive in what is an important element in our export effort. By 2012, export education was already our fifth largest export industry. The good/bad news for Winston Peters is that the two way traffic – foreign students coming here, our educational exports going there – is only likely to increase.

Fine. But to return to Peters’ diatribe, are foreign students really taking a significant number of jobs from young Kiwis? The conditions under which foreign students can work here are actually quite strict: Basically, foreign students can work here only if they’re in full time study, and can work only 20 hours a week during term, and full time only during the holiday periods. Given these conditions and the financial benefits from having foreign students here – not to mention the cultural and social richness they bring to our communities – its hard to see their presence as being a major driver of youth unemployment in this country. Peters’ readiness to make them a scapegoat for it is, once again, dirty politics.

The evidence also suggests that in targeting the Chinese (in his usual you-know-who-I’m-talking-about fashion) Peters is picking on the wrong group of Asians. As the OECD Migration Database pointed out in its commentary on the latest figures at its disposal (2011) the take-up of New Zealand’s Study to Work scheme has increased, and the main driver for this is NOT China:

The Study To Work policy increased 20%. The latter programme allows applicants to obtain a work visa for 12 or 24 months, where they have completed a course or qualification in
New Zealand that would qualify for points under the
Skilled Migrant Category. The growth in the Study to
Work Policy reflects the increase in Indian inter-
national students, a group of students who typically
have a high rate of transition to post-study work.

A high rate of transition to post-study work? That suggests a continued fee-paying contribution and a productive commitment. If we then come forward to the first trimester export education figures for 2014, it is India that (again) leads the growth figures.

There was strong growth from both traditional and emerging markets. Indian students saw the biggest increase at 41%…..

Not that Peters should be picking on India, either. Unfortunately, there will be no shortage of targets for him. Japan for instance, looks like becoming a growth market for New Zealand’s export education sector. The internationalisation of the Japanese economy under Shinzo Abe, and the demand for English language skills related to Japan’s planning for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Summer Olympics both offer excellent export education opportunities for New Zealand – whether Peters and his motley crew like it or not. More Asian students are on the way, and Peters had better get used to it. Yet on that xenophobic score, Peters’ redneck supporters might care to consult the country notes in the OECD Migration Database on New Zealand as to their latest [2011] figures on migrants, and their country-of-origin :

The top three source countries of permanent residents were the United Kingdom (15% of all residence approvals), and China and India (13% each)

Yup. The United Kingdom was still leading the way on immigration, with their Coronation Street and their Union Jacks and their Marmite and mushy peas…It just shouldn’t be allowed.

Finally, this brings us back to Peters’ first point. Is New Zealand really being flooded with unproductive, unskilled migrants – such that this is having a significant impact on our economic performance? On this point, Peters’ beef with family re-unifications for foreigners that involve their older relatives seems both unfeeling, and illogical. Does he really think that migrants should be denied family re-unification with their kuia and kaumatua? One would have thought that having their core families here with them could only assist migrants in making a productive commitment to their new life in this country.

More to the point, is an influx of “unskilled” migrants really a determinant of a country’s economic performance? The international evidence proves… well, nothing. It is and it isn’t, and everywhere in between. Some relatively successful economies – eg the US, Switzerland and Germany – have had high influxes of unskilled immigrants, both before and after their economies became successful. Italy on the other hand, has had a high influx of unskilled migrants (including waves of refugees from North Africa) and performs poorly. The two factors – lots of unskilled migrants and economic success or failure – co-exist in all kinds of permutations. Despite what Peters says, there is no consistent cause and effect. The wider picture on the relations between immigration and unskilled migrants is here.

The story for Germany seems particularly relevant:

Germany’s triumphant World Cup team included players of Polish, Turkish, African, and Arab descent, showcasing the country’s increasingly multi-ethnic complexion. What’s less well-known is that a record flood of immigrants is also giving a big boost to the German economy. Over the past five years, Germany has surpassed Britain to become Europe’s No. 1 immigration destination as foreign newcomers take jobs that otherwise would go begging.
Germany had a net influx of 437,000 people last year, mainly from other European Union nations, according to a report from economists at Deutsche Bank. The migrants are coming from troubled economies across Europe’s southern rim, as well as from Central and Eastern European nations that once sent workers to countries such as Spain…

To put in the lingo that Peters prefers: Germany is doing pretty well out of providing work opportunities for people who need Germany just as much as Germany needs them. Maybe its time we stopped blaming migrants and refugees for our own lack of economic success. On Election Day, that would mean shunning any politician who cynically tries to steer us down that old, tired xenophobic path.

***

Bob Dylan & the Basement Tapes. On November 4th, Bob Dylan will be releasing a six CD (!) version of the legendary Basement Tapes sessions with the Band, from the late 1960s. The story, and full track listing is here.

While many of the Basement Tapes songs have trickled out on bootlegs over the last few decades, at least 30 tracks in the new package are reportedly unknown, even to Dylan fanatics. Obviously, the new set will replace the album known as the Basement Tapes that was overseen by Robbie Robertson, and released officially on CBS in the mid 1970s. For reasons best known to himself, Robertson selected only about 15 tracks, added over-dubbings to some of them, and threw in a few demos by The Band to pad out the package. Curatorily speaking, it was a travesty.

The fact that so many of these tracks will be unknown even to Dylan obsessives is still surprising, given that the tapes of the sessions haven’t exactly been hidden in a vault for the past 40 years. According to the Rolling Stone story linked to above, the original masters were held for a long time by the Band’s keyboardist Garth Hudson, before Hudson passed them on to a record collector called Jan Haust. Haust has recently come to an arrangement with Dylan that will enable the full, unedited and un-tweaked versions to be released, roughly in the chronological order in which they were recorded.

Besides the original Dylan compositions, the November 4 package will contain some interesting cover versions…e.g. of the Tom Rush/Eric Von Schmidt canefields lament “Joshua Gone Barbados”; 1950s hits like “Silhouettes” by the Rays and “Mr Blue” by the Fleetwoods ; the cowboy song “Cool Water” written by Bob Nolan of The Sons of the Pioneers ; the modern pop gospel “People Get Ready” by Curtis Mayfield etc..As a preview of the November release, here’s one of the great but lesser known Basement Tapes cuts. It features Bob Dylan and the Band doing a languidly melancholy rendition of the old Brendan Behan song “The Auld Triangle” aka “ Banks of the Royal Canal…”

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    1. 3 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on Winston Peters’ latest bout of immigrant bashing, and Bob Dylan in the basement (again)”

    2. By Andrew on Aug 28, 2014 | Reply

      Like the tide and the moon, Winnie is completely predictable in election mode.
      OTOH, given the rise of Le Pen-style xenophobia across Europe, if the Winnie dog whistle is the voice of NZ’s inevitable xenophobic demographic, our race relations are actually in pretty good shape.

    3. By Kat on Aug 28, 2014 | Reply

      Gordon, thank you for that wonderful trip back to the Dylan/Band days. Soothed my mind after watching that media-pop excuse for a leaders debate on TVNZ this evening.

    4. By Ken Martin on Aug 29, 2014 | Reply

      Re Winston Peter’s beef with family re-unification for foreigners that involves their older relatives.

      1) Government policy applies to all ethnic groups. We can hardly single out asians for exclusion if that is what Winston would really like. I can hear a dog whistle.
      2) However, I do have concerns about the apparent concentration of most immigrants in the Auckland region. I would like them to be more spread out so the economic activity they bring could benefit all of New Zealand. Auckland determines to a large extent what happens elsewhere in New Zealand. In some respects, e.g housing, interest rates Auckland is a malign influence.

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