Winston Peters argues NZ's Africa and Middle East refugee policy 'can hardly be racist'

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The Foreign Affairs Minister said, “We’ll see where we finally settle”, when asked if the family link policy would be dropped. Source: Q+A

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters says New Zealand's immigration policy that explicitly prevents refugees from Africa and the Middle East from settling here, unless they already had family living in the country, is not racist. 

"It can hardly be racist. How could it possibly be racist when all the ones coming in are brown or black? How could that possibly be racist?" Mr Peters told TVNZ1 Q+A host Jack Tame.

"Maybe your definition, it's not mine. None of these refugee countries have said New Zealand is racist. That’s why they're queuing up to come here - because we're not."

Last week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also denied the policy was racist

"I wouldn't describe it that way," she said. "You could have an argument over whether or not it should remain, and we're looking at our settings now."

The issue was highlighted on TVNZ1's Sunday, which found New Zealand's main refugee quota has been heavily affected by the policy.

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New Zealand’s refugee policy discriminates against those from Africa and the Middle East. Experts say it could breach our human rights obligations. Source: Sunday

"It's the policy of a former Government," Mr Peters added. "It's the policy we inherited, it's the policy we’re working on...New Zealand people have a right to set their policy, in consultation with the UN.

"We’ll see where we finally settle."

Mr Peters said total net immigration needed to be analysed first, but the policy was being looked at "as we speak". 

When asked if he supported the family link policy, Mr Peters said, "In what way?"

"Should it remain in place?" Tame asked.

"We’re doing the calculations as we speak on how that breaks down and they will not have a person living in New Zealand if they were a genuine refugee and they’re part of our quota, they’ll be accepted," Mr Peters said. 

“But at the moment they’re not, is that going to change?” Tame asked. 

"Yes it is. I can't tell you when exactly," Mr Peters said initially. However, when asked again if it was to be removed, Mr Peters said, "no, no, we are working on a whole range of things to do with that policy, but first of all we’re trying to get a fix on what we’re doing in the bigger area and that work is not completed."

"I cannot answer that question now. We want to know what it all means before we rush to finality and make a public announcement."

The family link refugee policy

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said on Q+A earlier this month that the decision is before Government "on our next three year programme, the family link decision is part of that". 

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Q+A asks if New Zealand’s refugee policy is racist and talks about workplace bullying. Source: Q+A

Mr Lees-Galloway had not received "advice to that extent" of security concerns of refugees from Africa or the Middle East. "This is our opportunity to review that setting, it is the right time to do it."

On if there was cross-party support in changing the rule, Mr Lees-Galloway said he was in discussion with NZ First and the Green Party.

On TVNZ1's Breakfast last month, Mr Lees-Galloway said the policy was "the very definition of discrimination", but would not explicitly say whether the Government would change the policy.

When asked why the policy was not changed earlier, Mr Lees-Galloway said that "the three-year programme is in there for a good reason... Immigration New Zealand need time to plan and operationalise the refugee intake". 

Mr Lees-Galloway would not say if he thought the law was racist, but said he had expressed his view to Cabinet.

"That's where I should be having that conversation," he said.  

In a statement, the UNHCR – the UN's refugee agency – told TVNZ refugee laws should be applied "without discrimination to race, religion or country of origin".

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Mr Peters talks Iran, Boris Johnson and ANZ, on June 24. Source: Q+A

Q+A is on TVNZ1 Mondays at 9.30pm, and the episode is then available on TVNZ OnDemand and as a podcast in all the usual places.