KEITH LOCKE (Green): The Greens will be supporting this bill going to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, but we, too, have some concerns about provisions in it. I agree with the view of the Minister of Police that we do not want to enable people to profit from human misery by people-trafficking in the way that the bill is envisaged to stop, and we do not want employers exploiting workers who have been trafficked to New Zealand outside the immigration laws. We agree that we should be part of the international community in trying to deal with the problem of people-smuggling. But, that being said, it is not actually a very big problem for New Zealand itself right now, so we do not need to get carried away. There are not a lot of boats arriving on New Zealand shores with hundreds of people. I think we have to put it in perspective.
I am a bit worried–and I think it follows from one of the points Stephen Franks made–that we have to distinguish in some way between those people who are trafficking in human beings, and bringing them to our shores illegally for profit, and those who are just assisting legitimate asylum-seekers. We do have a duty to the international community, under the conventions we are signed up to, to take in asylum seekers, and New Zealanders who actually assist asylum seekers to get here should not be treated in the same way as people who are trafficking in human cargo. I am worried about that point, and I think it has to be dealt with in the select committee.
There is a provision to change the Immigration Act to allow the conditional release of asylum seekers who are imprisoned at the present time under that Act. That is, in one sense, a step forward in that it means that instead of asylum seekers staying in prison for a long time–some are there for 2 to 3 months at the present time–they may get out earlier. There are asylum seekers suffering in Mount Eden Prison right now. There are people who are being detained in the Mangere Refuge Settlement Centre right now–and not just those from the Tampa. Of course, this conditional release provision might allow some of those to get out of detention earlier than they otherwise would.
But there is a downside to it. I have been pushing for New Zealand to move away from what is now almost a routine process of detaining asylum seekers who arrive here without proper documentation. Before 11 September, most asylum seekers who arrived without proper documentation were put into the open refugee hostel run by the Auckland Refugee Council. They were not put into detention or into prison. Since 11 September, they have largely been put into the Mount Eden remand prison or the Mangere Refugee Settlement Centre, which is now a detention centre. For instance, in the period from 11 September to 17 December, 131 people were detained at the Mangere Refugee Settlement Centre. Most of those people were from the Tampa, but 28 were not. There are people detained there now, as I said. Also in that period, 14 were imprisoned in the Mount Eden remand prison. I have visited some of them in prison, and they are suffering. Most of them subsequently do gain refugee status, and that is another reason that they should not be detained. I am a bit worried that now there is conditional release, people will think they can stick all the asylum seekers in jail because they will be released at a later point. I think that question has to be addressed in the discussion of the legislation.
The point that Stephen Franks raised about the corrupt use of official information is a point I was going to make, too. There is no definition in the legislation of what “advantage”, in clause 7, is, and I agree with the member that it could be political advantage. The other phrase, “pecuniary gain”, is a little more precise, but there certainly needs to be a discussion of the term “advantage”. That provision contrasts with a provision in clause 8, in relation to bribery, which states that people can actually bribe if the bribe is “for the sole or primary purpose of ensuring or expediting the performance by a foreign public official of a routine Government action;”. I think we have to look at whether we actually want to put into law that bribery can in some way be legal.
The other question I wish to raise–and it also relates to a change in the Immigration Act–is that of employers having to take reasonable steps to find out the immigration status of the people they employ. If they do not do that, and the employee is found to be here without proper status, then they can be subject to a $10,000 fine. When similar proposals have been debated in New Zealand in the past, it has been suggested that they would actually produce more racial prejudice in New Zealand.
In the Christchurch Press of yesterday there is an illustration to show that that will actually be fact. In that item Jenny Harrow, who co-owns Nafferton Berry Farm in Christchurch with her husband, says that the legislation would put her off hiring what she called coloured people. The couple had regularly employed family groups, mainly from Asian countries and Fiji. The Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive, Peter Townsend, makes a similar point. He says the provision could work against immigrants or refugees. Lianne Dalziel, the Minister of Immigration, in reply says she does not think it is unreasonable to ask employers to play their part.
But what is going to happen in practice? Not all employers are the most unprejudiced people in the world, and it is a fact that new migrants to New Zealand have difficulty getting employment, even when their qualifications and skills are equal to those of New Zealanders. One only needs to drive around in taxis in Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch, or anywhere else to come across the stories of many new migrants–sometimes asylum seekers, sometimes migrants under other categories–who have found it difficult to get employment here because the older, settled New Zealander with, sometimes, better language skills often gets preference.
Under this situation, if an employer who is trying to fill a job vacancy as quickly and efficiently as possible has six people apply for the job, five of whom are, obviously, long-settled New Zealanders and one of whom is a new migrant, that employer, who knows there is a $10,000 fine for getting it wrong, will take one of the five whom he or she is sure of, and will forget the sixth person, the new migrant. That is what will happen in practice, even from employers who are not at all racially prejudiced. They will do that because it is the easiest option, and, often, they will not think they are being prejudiced. I think we have to bear in mind that reality, and not bring in such a provision, which might lead to greater prejudice, greater unemployment, and greater inequalities for new migrants to this country. The employers just will not go to the trouble of establishing whether applicants have a right to work here.
I agree that there is another aspect to the bill, and one of the motivations, perhaps, behind the provision that I see problems with is that we do not want people without proper immigration status being brought in by employers and exploited. We do not want the Holidays Act and other Acts not being adhered to, because the employer has something over these workers. We do not want employers to say that if the workers kick up a fuss about not getting the conditions provided for in the Holidays Act, and all those other conditions, then they will be kicked out of the country because they do not have proper status. We want to avoid the exploitation of new migrants. We want to stop people from being brought here without proper immigration status, and being exploited. The Green Party supports that aspect of the bill. But to make it the responsibility of employers to check the migration status of everyone they hire is, I think, going too far, and will actually be counterproductive and go against the tenor of the other provision, in terms of stopping exploitation.