"Queue Jumpers" Perish Off Australia: Human Rights Under Threat in New Zealand
Monday, 10 September, 2012
The New Zealand public is about to have thrust upon it one of the most cynical, negative political strategies in recent
years, and one that will lead to breaches of international law, violations of basic human rights and potentially have
far-reaching, long-term consequences to our world reputation.
Are we better than that?:
The National Govt insiders have done their homework and know their polling research. There is untapped political capital
gain to be made. John Howard showed the way in Australia, and it’s a very simple formula:
Whip up fear-mongering among the electorate that they are about to be invaded by hordes of unwashed “boat people”
Put out press releases posing National as the staunch “guardian of the borders,” who will protect the public from
undesirables who are to be dehumanised and labelled as “queue jumpers” (Never mind the facts:, that there is no queue to
jump, that desperate persecuted people may lawfully seek a place of safety under an international law NZ signed up to;
or that there have never been any boats making it as far as this country and are unlikely in the future)
Introduce surprise draconian legislation that purports to target ‘people-smugglers’ but actually punishes their victims
Ignore in Select Committee the advice of the United Nations, the Law Society and 33 other expert groups strongly
opposing the proposed legislation as seriously flawed and a clear violation of the UN Convention and the NZ Human Rights
Ignore appeals from the leading opposition parties to avoid politicising refugee issues which have never been political
in NZ’s proud humanitarian history
Ignore the overwhelming evidence of the failed Australian policies that harsh treatment of boat people does not deter a
single one of them (ignore the science, bury the facts, just stick to the “deterrence” crib-sheet)
Learn nothing from the mistakes of the Australians who have created a huge mess in which there are no winners by
politicising such issues
Reject the approach of Labour, the Greens, and the major opposition parties to reach a positive, multi-party accord
balancing valid border protection with humanitarian obligations
Keep from the public the real reasons behind the move which have nothing to do with phantom boats, people smugglers or
human rights, but rather trade opportunities, and political gain at the expense of the suffering of the most vulnerable
The unheralded arrival of one Jason Kenney in August, of 2011 and his talks with leading National party Cabinet members
went well under the radar. Those making the effort to do an internet search on Mr Kenney will learn some very
interesting facts about this extreme right-wing Canadian politician, his origins and his connections. Subsequent to his
visit, Mr Kenney, introduced the draconian C-31into the Canadian Parliament and boasted on his website about how he had
‘enlightened’ NZ’s political leaders.
His visit attracted no publicity here but his own Canadian website reports that he came to tell our Prime Minister;
“Migrant smuggling and human trafficking are not just Canada’s problem….”. New Zealand has to work with Canada to
“dissuade potential migrants by warning them of not only the dangers of smuggling operations, but also the legal
consequences of trying to enter Canada and New Zealand illegally”. The apparent innocence of that statement clouds just
how outrageous it is. A Commonwealth Minister of Immigration ignores his own county’s commitment to a UN Convention;
uses slick words to convert asylum seekers, who are protected by the UN Convention, into illegal migrants, and then has
the gall to not only brow beat our Prime Minister to do likewise, but to boast on his website that he has done so.
Prior to Kenney’s visit, on 12th July 2011 our Prime Minister John Key told the NZ Herald that govt was ‘ready to deal
with a boatload of asylum seekers’, that “we’ve upgraded our operating manual”…”we understand what we need to do”. These
comments followed a review by the NZ Cabinet Committee on Domestic and External Security following the “Sun Sea” arrival
in Canada. NZ had a commitment to the UN Convention; 60 years experience in dealing with asylum seekers in accord with
the Convention; we had recently upgraded our legislation; we had observed Canada’s ability to manage their mass arrival
in accord with the Convention; officials and Ministers reviewed the situation and determined we were in good shape to
manage a mass arrival, should one arise. Mr Key’s statement was rational and appropriate - so what happened to change
that formerly balanced position? But it was the polling research that showed how political gain could potentially be
extracted from the suffering of hapless asylum people through playing the “John Howard Card.” The public could be
cynically manipulated through fear-mongering to worry about an unlikely boat arrival, and National could then be
portrayed as far-sighted “guardians-of-the-border.” It would have to be a winner with the red-neck vote, and would
galvanise support from the middle with slick, simplistic arguments, as well as serve as a decoy for uncomfortable
problems with asset sales or the antics of John Banks.
Never mind the fact that only about 300 asylum seekers actually ever arrive in New Zealand annually, one of the fewest
numbers in the world, or that 60% are deported after findings under due process that they are not valid refugees. If
there is no problem, one will have to be created, with unneeded legislation to address it.
Yet, how many New Zealanders would be comfortable with a law that would give a Government unprecedented powers to lock
up innocent people in detention in an army base, not for anything they have done, and not even by individual name, but
simply because they belong to group?
That is the scope of the Mass Arrivals Detention Bill. Would it be a reach for for that same range of legal rights
violations under mass warrants to be extended to other groups in future as well? Both Amnesty International, and the
International Detention Coalition have given unprecedented attention to this proposed move by the New Zealand Government
which has largely been all but ignored by the mainstream media. The National Government is happy to wear the cost of
legal challenges to the legislation (in the unlikely event it ever has to be used) all the way to the Supreme Court in
which it will be found to violate both international law and the NZ Human Rights Act. It represents arbitrary detention.
As the Mass Arrivals Detention Bill hurtles toward its Second Reading on 10 September, the National Govt has vowed to
put its head down and ram it through Parliament if it can. The potential political gain is just too much for the Nats to
At the present time, both United Future and the Maori Party are wavering in their support as factual information has
become available to them. It could go either way.
But there are underlying reasons beyond ignorance and arrogance why the National members on the Select Committee never
listened to all the overwhelming expert advice against the proposed Bill in 32 of 33 submissions strongly opposing it.
This lies in its undeniable appeal in shoring up political support from segments of the electorate.
By unwisely politicising the issues in introducing this ill-considered proposed law, the Key Govt is unwittingly
unleashing socially polarising forces which will needlessly divide the country much like the mess in Australia. Although
a slightly slicker version, it harks back to the Muldoon government’s cynical use of the Springbok Tour 30 years ago to
achieve similar short-term political objectives.
The Refugee Council of New Zealand believes the passage of this law will be proven to be a serious mistake, but accepts
it may now be a foregone conclusion. Yet, if the Government is intent on passing such legislation which will clearly
breach the UN Convention, it would be far better to do so honestly and withdraw from it in a transparent way, rather
than undermining it by stealth. If the Government believes that it is time for the UN Refugee Convention to be
re-thought or re-written, then there are valid international forums for addressing this with integrity.
It will be a sad day for New Zealand when the Immigration Amendment (Mass Arrivals) Bill is passed into law.