Labour walked into a trap in the Pacific this week, and it has only itself to blame.
David Cunliffe’s current propensity for seemingly making up Labour’s immigration policy on the fly has opened the party up to attacks that are difficult to defend against. Namely, National can fear monger by telling any possible group of immigrants it pleases that Labour intends to shut the door on them. National then simply leaves Labour to try and explain why National is wrong – except that it’s difficult for anybody in Labour to sound convincing on the subject when no one seems to quite know what the policy was, is or will be.
This week, with John Key touring the Pacific on his Pacific Mission, and with Trevor Mallard having confirmed that Labour would be looking at cutting migrants coming on work visas and the family reunion category, it should have been no surprise to Labour that John Key would be taking the opportunity to sow the seeds of fear among the Pacific nations, which would of course flow back to Labour’s Pacific voter base back in New Zealand.
Except that apparently it was a surprise to Labour. When Samoa’s Prime Minister, was asked in a press conference about Labour’s proposed restrictions, he labelled them “detrimental to New Zealand”. Mr Key then took the opportunity to put the boot in and plug for the Pacifica vote. David Shearer, joining Key on the Pacific Mission as Labour’s representative, seemed to be caught on the hop. Here’s the reporting of Shearer’s statement in response:
Mr Shearer is on the Pacific Mission with John Key, during which Mr Key has repeatedly claimed Labour’s plans to rein in immigration will affect the Pacific Islands and extolled National as better for Pacific Islanders.
Mr Shearer said it was inappropriate to use the trip and opportunities such as a press conference with Samoa’s Prime Minister to comment on another party.
“It should be an apolitical NZ Inc trip to the Pacific, and he is using it to raise these issues.
“It is fair enough in New Zealand, but we are all here to make the best possible impression on the Pacific that we can.”
He said Mr Key should have declined to answer such questions “rather than extrapolate and put a political spin on it”.
“He doesn’t even understand what Labour’s policy is. We have agreements with the Pacific, and those aren’t going to be changing.”
The correct response should have been to clearly enunciate Labour’s policy, stress the minimal impact it would have on the Pacific Islands and perhaps make a final comment that you’re disappointed in the Prime Minister’s politicking. But the problem is, again, that no one in Labour seems to know what the policy is. When the immigration spokesperson has been telling the media that Labour are looking at cutting work visas and family reunifications, it’s probably not much comfort for the Islands to know that existing minimum quotas will remain.
Instead, Shearer simply looked like he was whining, having been politically outclassed by the Prime Minister. No one looks good when they whine. It’s a lesson Labour should have learned when David Cunliffe began bleating during the Royal tour about how John Key was getting more photo ops.