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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 38 No. 22. September 11, 1975

Editorial: An Indictment of Labour Govt

Editorial: An Indictment of Labour Govt

Care's report on the use of police dogs against Tongan workers in Auckland is a terrible indictment of the Labour Government's immigration policy. Immigration Minister Colman has told Care that he does not accept "that the well-being of the community must in all cases be subjugated to the rights of the individual." His department's use of dogs in Auckland shows that this statement has rather sinister implications.

Fraser Colman has done little to alleviate the conditions of migrant workers in this country. Instead he seems to have done his best to make them worse. After being responsible for the instigation of dawn raids against Polynesian immigrants last year, Colman now stands culpable for being in charge of a department that uses police dogs to terrify people whose 'guilt' has yet to be proved.

The real tragedy of the situation is that the use of terror tactics is not the most deplorable aspect of Labour's immigration policy in the South Pacific. Under the guise of removing exploitation of Tongan immigrants, the Labour Government has now instituted a policy which is frighteningly similar to South Africa's Bantustan policy. And on his recent trip to the South Pacific. Colman announced that this policy is to be extended to Western Samoa and Fiji.

Previously Tongan immigrants came to New Zealand on visitors' permits and worked in some of the worst paid and filthiest jobs in industry, as well as suffering vicious treatment from certain rack-renting landlords. Employers were keen to take on these people because they are reliable and hardworking and because they had little knowledge or experience of trade unionism (trade unions are outlawed in Tonga). But many of these workers overstayed their visitors' permits and it was not until the Government instigated the dawn raids last April that the whole problem was thoroughly aired in public.

The Labour Government was severely embarrassed by the public criticism it received from the Pacific Islands community in NZ, Maori organisations, churches, the trade union movement, Care and other anti-racist groups. So the Government cooked up a new scheme for Tongan migrant workers to come to New Zealand and talked the Tongan Government (which had little bargaining power) into accepting it.

The new scheme allowed Tongan workers to come here for an initial four months if they were sponsored by an employer Their permits would be extended for another two months if their employer agreed (in other words if the workers had been well-behaved) and if the Labour Department approved. Employers, the Labour Department and Air New Zealand were made responsible for arrangements concerning the workers' travel and welfare, giving Air New Zealand a tidy little bit of guaranteed business.

When this new scheme was announced in late October Care and other organisations criticised it on two counts. First, they pointed to the fact that the new scheme was deliberately designed to be "self regulating". In other words the number of Tongan workers allowed to come here depends on the demand for cheap semi and unskilled labour by employers. In times of economic boom large numbers of Tongan workers have come here. But in times of economic recession . .

Second, Colman's critics argued that the new scheme should have allowed for participation by the trade union movement and the local Tongan community in its planning and administration. They were concerned that the new scheme was designed to produce a cowered and docile labour force of temporary workers who would be used by employers to undercut local workers' conditions.

Colman reacted angrily to these criticisms. But now he has to face the uncomfortable fact that his critics have been proved right. Between January 1 this year (the date on which the new scheme came into operation) and June 30 only 276 Tongan workers have come here under the new scheme, compared to several thousands last year. Apart from the Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce's scheme (which is very similar), the official scheme is now the only way Tongans can get to NZ to work.

The effects of this drastic drop in immigration have been to transfer part of this country's unemployment problem to Tonga And over the first six months of this year the Bank of Tonga has received $¼ million less in remittances from Tongan workers in NZ to their families back home than for the same period last year Ironically enough Colman admitted last year that these remittances are very important to the wellbeing of the Tongan economy.

So the Tongan people have had to pay for NZ's economic recession. They are paying not only in lack of work in New Zealand and in falling remittances but also as a result of the gross imbalance of trade between the two countries. To see their brothers and sisters treated like animals by policemen and their dogs in Auckland is the final insult.

When the hard realities of Labour's immigration policy are compared with National's witch-hunting against Pacific Islanders and other immigrants, there is little to choose between them That alone is a savage condemnation of the Labour Party's lack of principles But, Mr Colman, if the cap fits, wear it.

— Bruce Robinson