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The Greens welcome review to Family Unification policy: October 14, 2019

Green Party leader James Shaw joins us on the Wire for our weekly catch up and talks about the Green’s successful campaigns, such as the refugee programme, along with how New Zealanders are always ready to help out. Shaw also discusses a possible change in voting age and future budget plans for the next election. 

News and Editorial Director Lillian Hanly spoke with James Shaw to find out more, you can listen to the full interview here.

How do you feel about the budget surplus? 

Well I have mixed feeling about the budget surplus, for a number of reasons. One of which obviously is that it is difficult to justify running large surpluses when you still have people living in cars and garages, right? So everyone acknowledges that. On the flip side, quite a lot of this surplus is actually a change in accounting methods, which I know is a bit weird. About 2.5 billion dollars of that is due to a reevaluation of KiwiRail and so that bumped up the value and bumped up the surplus. Another billion or so of it was a change in the Inland Revenue manages to book its incoming revenue as well. Those things don’t equate to cash which means you can’t spend it. But it is a really large number which is a but awkward when you’re trying to say ‘well why are you running surpluses that big?’ So it's one of those things that we know we need to go further and faster when it comes to making sure we’re getting houses built and ending homelessness, child poverty and fixing climate change.

When you talk about budget surplus, you’re right that you don’t really go into the details of that fact that it’s a reevaluation,so if it’s not cash, why do we get this big number?   

Because it basically comes down to how you account for things. In the case of KiwiRail, it used to be valued purely on how it would make cash revenue for the crown, and that didn't amount for very much as those networks have been so run down over the past several decades. But what's happened is we’ve changed the way it gets valued, the benefit of rail. For example we’ve added in the value of the number of cars taken off the road or the amount of trucks taken off the road for fraught and the effect it has on decongesting cities and motorways and so on. So when you add in the benefits of the rail network for the country and for the economy, then you end up with a significantly higher valuation than its had previously. All that does is take into account a whole bunch of things that should have been taken into account previously that weren’t but it ends up on the governments books as an asset and therefore it becomes a part of our accounts essentially. 

So what does it mean for the Greens? Does this mean for the next budget in terms of the way everyone is going to be working together and not bidding but essentially attempting to get a piece of the pie I suppose, what are the greens going to get out of it? 

Well, this happens every regardless of the size of your surplus. You go into and say we’ve got a lot of things we’d like to prioritise and we need to make sure we negotiate to get as much value as we can. Unfortunately because tax revenues have remained largely similar to what they were last year, there is always a bigger list than there is money to spend, and so the budget round process is always pretty competitive. The kinds of things the Greens are pushing and have pushed for a long time are things like greater investment in our conservation. Climate change, public transport, mental health in particular and so on. I think the last budget strongly reflected our priorities which I was really pleased about and obviously we will be negotiating to make sure the next one does as well.

I just want to touch briefly on polling. So Labour dropped this weekend but the Greens are up 6.4%, how does that make you feel? 

I have to say that the previous poll was five months ago and it wasn’t terribly long after the massacre in Christchurch when the Prime Minister had a huge profile for how she was leading the country through that and frankly no one believed at the time the previous poll, when it said Labour were up above 50%. So I know it’s getting reported as this massive drop but actually I suspect it looks more like a reality it has been for some time. I think the important thing for this poll shows that the government is on more than 50%, which is where it needs to be. I’m obviously pleased we are up marginally in this poll that reflects some of the other polling I’ve seen as well. Traditionally what happens to support parties between elections is that they tend to get crushed in the polls, so the fact that we are up halfway through the term is a really good time.                    

And this puts you comfortably above the 5% threshold

Yes it does, I don’t want to get blasé because obviously it’s you know, within the margin of error but we are defying history and showing that a support party can actually get recognition for the rork that it does and I think our core vote is pretty solid. Obviously I’d like a few more MPs in here with me, I think we’ve done amazing things with just eight of us but imagine what we could do with just a few more.  

Now the government has announced a review of the family reunification scheme for refugees. Can you tell us what the policy is at the moment? 

This is something the Greens party has been campaigning for since before the last election. The previousNational Government put in place a policy that said that refugees from the Middle East and Africa, even though they had already been through the United Nations refugee vetting process had to have a relative living in New Zealand already in order to be resettled here. In our view that was just plain racist dog whistling designed to keep Africans and people from the Middle East out of New Zealand, even though they were displaced from their own home lands and probably didn’t want to move in the first place. So the fact is we’ve ended that and said ‘no, if someone has been through UN vetting process then they are eligible and it does matter where in the world they have come from the point is they are the refugees, they've had to leave their homeland through circumstances not of their own choosing and they need somewhere to live. 

The criticism around this is that there’s a lack of funding but also the definition of family. Would you be able to explain that? 

Refugee services are always really challenging. The issue we’ve got in New Zealand is that we don’t take in very many refugees per capita, if you compare it to Australia they take in many more times refugees per person in Australia compared to New Zealand.Part of that is because we simply refuse to fund the substantial increase. One of the things I’m really proud of, is that in the term of this government we will have doubled the refugee quota from 750 to 1500. That’s a very good start. We do have a very good refugee resettlement programme here. We have an A grade facility in Mangere where arriving refugees come. They get health and mental health checks and learn how to deal with New Zealand society, which can be pretty unusual if you come from a very, very different culture and so on but it’s always something we say I New Zealand can lift its game on. 

In terms of there being a review, you’ve mentioned there being a family link and that issue having been resolved in the sense that it is now going to end. But in terms of a revue what else could come out of this, what would the Greens want to see?

Some big things are that in this term of parliament we will have doubled their refugee quota, which was something we champaign for and we will have ended the requirement to have a family link here in New Zealand already. I think some things we would want to ensure next are that we continue to expand the refugee quota until we can at the very least match that of Australia, which would require us to double the quota again at about 3000. 

And that also means putting more funding or support into those services? 

Yes, it would absolutely mean that and it would probably mean opening a second refugee resettlement centre. Before the last election the Greens said that we were keen to do this and we actually heard from a number of towns and cities who said they would be delighted to host a second refugee resettlement centre in the country. We think there is an appetite for that, Kiwis want to do the right thing, we see the plight that people are in and we want to help and I don’t think it would be too much to ask for us to do our fair share.

You don’t often hear but there are so many resettlement programmes that go on throughout the country that are quite successful?

The main thing is that we’ve just got the one main resettlement centre in Mangere where people go when they first arrive and they move and it is mostly within Auckland where you’ve got a very diverse population and often there will be a community there who can support someone coming in from their origin country. That is increasingly true in other parts of New Zealand. I am a Wellingtonian, we’ve got a fairly large Etheopian population here and so if there are refugees coming in from Ethiopia they’ve got a community here, many of whom were refugees themselves or their parents were refugees who can support new arrivals. I think that’s a really good and useful thing as well because could you imagine the journeys some of these people have been on, some of them would have travelled thousands of kilometers on foot and been in refugees camps run by the UN, who knows where and then all of a sudden they find themselves on an island in the South Pacific and so it’s useful having a community who can reach out. 

You guys announced that you’re going for a lower voting age, can I just get your thoughts on that and what that would look like?

Well there are a number of places around the world that have reduced voting age of 16 and I think when you look at the really big long term issues, particularity climate change, then the decisions that politicians make today are going to huge impact on the 16 and 17 years olds when they are our age and so think it is entirely valid to give them the opportunity to have a say who the people are who are making those decisions and I think if you look at the local body elections over the weekend,  you saw 18, 19 20 years olds running in those local body elections and winning all over the country. I think this is a sign that today's young people are increasingly politically aware and politically astute and they want things to be different from the way that they are and I think the political parties should compete for those votes rather than just competing for the votes of older people, which tends to lead to the same old thing.

Would that mean civics education in schools and that sort of thing? 

We think regardless of whether you lower the voting age we should have civics education in schools, and if you pair that with lowering the voting age it means people will be going to the polls for the first time when they're in school so they’ll have the benefit of the context of that education and that helps to form their habits. We know that people who don't cast their first vote when they are 18, 19, if they miss it, then unfortunately that tends to be the habit that gets formed and they continue not to vote or not to vote until much later in life. 

It would be interesting if we can gather a demographic of people that did vote but here in Auckland we’ve had a majorly low turnout for the local body elections, so that could be something that could solve it, right? 

I don't think it would solve it because when you look at the turnout of sort of 30-40% in auckland and around the country, that's pretty dire in every age category and we need to rethink how we do the local body elections and how we do the voting for them because frankly getting elected on a majority of a third is a pretty small mandate to try and govern.


Photo credit: Stuff