Thursday, April 06, 2006

Not impressed

I've just read the government's Immigration Act Review Discussion paper [PDF] - all 263 pages - and I am not impressed. While many of the changes involve streamlining administration, and a welcome proposal to fully incorporate Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture and Articles 6 and 7 of the ICCPR into immigration law, there's also a definite focus on removing appeal rights and generally making it more difficult to contest immigration decisions. The proposed time limits on filing humanitarian appeals against expulsion - 14 or 28 days from the time someone's presence in New Zealand becomes unlawful - are positively Texan in their potential for injustice, and seem aimed more at imposing bureaucratic hurdles to prevent appeals and so allow easier deportation than properly addressing questions of justice or humanitarian concern. And the section on the use of classified information (whether security or otherwise) is proposing broadening its use to everyday immigration decisions such as whether to admit someone into the country. Real concerns about natural justice and fairness stemming from the use of such secret "evidence" (not to mention the quality of the "evidence" provided when it is not subject to robust testing or a right of reply) are simply dismissed. Instead, they want to take one of the key injustices in the Zaoui case, and inflict it on more people. Clearly, they haven't learned anything from the whole saga.

Labour's problem with immigration policy is that, as with crime, it has allowed itself to be drawn into a bidding war with the right over who can be "toughest". And its a bidding war they cannot win. No matter what the government does, the right will claim that it is not enough, and demand even more vicious, vindictive and unfair treatment. This is a mug's game, and the only way to win is not to play it. Labour has just done that on sentencing, and they need to do the same here by rejecting the premise of "toughness" and instead pursuing an alternative framing based on justice and fairness. Otherwise, sooner or later they're going to fatally compromise their values (if they haven't already), leaving the supporters who fought so hard to elect a left-wing government last election wondering why the fuck they bothered.