From left, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English, Conservative Party leader Colin Craig and Labour finance spokesman David Parker at last night's ASB Great Debate at the Queenstown Memorial Centre. Photo by David Williams.
It wasn't dirty politics but a David Parker gaffe about ''low
value'' immigrants that jumped out during a pre-election
political debate in Queenstown last night.
Nicky Hager's explosive book Dirty Politics dominated
headlines last week, before September 20's general election,
and it took only 10 minutes to be mentioned at the ASB Great
Debate, as Green Party co-leader Russel Norman congratulated
Deputy Prime Minister Bill English for not rating a mention.
But the book was not raised again for about an hour, set
aside in favour of policy issues.
It was on one thorny issue, that of immigration, where Mr
Parker, Labour's finance spokesman, came unstuck.
Last week, government figures showed annual net migration for
the 12 months to July had hit 41,000 and was predicted to
reach record highs later this year.
Conservative Party leader Colin Craig said he wanted that
figure to be cut in half.
Mr Parker, meanwhile, said immigration levels should be lower
but it was not possible to put a number on it.
Some immigration could be controlled, Mr Parker said, and he
used Queenstown as a good example of that - highlighting the
success of the local soccer team because it was stacked with
He started to say: ''We've got a lot of low-value immigration
- no, not low value, these are good people ...''
Mr Parker tried to backtrack, saying he was referring to
immigrants taking low paid work, but he was pinned down by MC
Duncan Garner, who said, to the crowd's laughter: ''Who are
the low-value ones, Mr Parker? This is your moment of 2014.''
Mr Parker retorted he was in favour of high-skilled
immigrants for well-paid jobs and was less convinced about
foreigners working on wages close to the minimum wage.
He finally gained ground with the crowd of several hundred
people, getting applause for saying a ''living wage'' should
be paid to encourage more New Zealanders into low-paid work.
On tax cuts, Finance Minister Mr English said the Government
would look at ''moderate'', prospective tax cuts for low and
middle-income earners, although there was little money
Asked if the economy had peaked, Mr English agreed that was
probably true, ''in terms of a point growth rate''.
The debate had the usual friendly banter.
Mr English, who is stepping down as the Clutha Southland MP
at this election but remains on the party list, welcomed his
political colleagues to his last official engagement as the
''MP for Queenstown'' by saying: ''We're always keen to see
wealthy tourists from up north.''
Mr Norman had arguably the best-received and most succinct
answer of the night.
Asked why a high-earning adult who decided not to have
children should have their tax dollars handed to out-of-work
parents who had four to six children, Mr Norman replied:
''Because it's wrong to punish children for the decision of
Act leader Jamie Whyte also appeared in last night's debate.