Friday, 23 June 2017

The Immigration Debate, a Hit or a Myth?

It is obvious that immigration is a political hot potato. It is also clear that it is going to continue to be blatantly used as an election tool for the forthcoming general election. Regrettably that means that sound immigration policy is likely to be compromised by short term political agendas and self-interest.

Because of our extraordinary circumstances in Christchurch over the past 6 years, we have relied very heavily on short term and permanent immigration, domestically and internationally. It has bolstered our workforce and materially assisted us to recreate our city. In just the last three years, we have had record migration which has significantly changed the cultural mix of Christchurch. It is important to note that at present, 70% of all inbound immigration in our region is not rebuild related. Most migrants are being utilized in the underlying fast-growing and diverse economies of Christchurch and Canterbury.

The just released Canterbury Development Corporation Economic Update demonstrates that our region needs five times the long-run average of historic inbound migration to meet employment and economic growth projections. Given that, putting a brake on international migration would seriously compromise our economies in the future.  Our dependency on continuing strong levels of immigration across all sectors of our economy should not be underestimated.

Export education brings welcome overseas students into Christchurch and is an important part of our diverse economy. Not only do these students provide a significant economic contribution, but they also pave the way for high skilled permanent migrants to either stay in New Zealand, or come back after their education has concluded. The Colombo Plan of the 70’s, which attracted high caliber students from Malaysia, particularly to Lincoln University, is a very good example of that. That legacy lives on.

The unemployment rate in the City of Christchurch at present is 4.9%. Excluding Christchurch, the unemployment rate in wider Canterbury is 2.7%. An unemployment rate of 2.7% is too low to be sustainable in a growing economy. The key solution to this problem is robust domestic and international migration.

Migrants do not come to New Zealand, and to our region, at the expense of local employment opportunities. They come to New Zealand to earn, to spend, to contribute and to create opportunities, not stifle them. It is hard to believe that locals looking for jobs in our region cannot find them with an unemployment rate of 2.7%. It is also hard to accept that we can continue to grow our regional economy without the ongoing support of new migrants.

It is exciting to see Christchurch becoming an increasingly diverse, multi-cultural city with people of different nationalities coming to Christchurch, many because of the rebuild, and wanting to stay here to enjoy some of the finest lifestyle offerings available anywhere in the world.

A major driver of the political posturing around immigration, is driven by the obvious capacity constraints in Auckland. Christchurch and Canterbury should not get caught up in that problem. As a city, and as a region, we welcome international migrants and domestic migrants, including our friends from Auckland who are living in a stretched community with stretched resources. Here, we have all the fundamentals for good living, and plenty of capacity for others to join us. We have realistic house prices, an abundance new office accommodation, hospitality offerings second to none, and good infrastructure. We enjoy a city that is future focused and positioned in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. 

Let’s take the politics out of the migration debate. We need stable, positive migration policies and strategies that will stimulate our economy, enrich our communities and satisfy our employment requirements. It will be a travesty if immigration as a political football, ends up resulting in an own goal. 

Friday, 9 June 2017

Where There Is Smoke

New Zealand society has come a long way in the last 40 years with respect to the behavior of smokers in our community. When I was a child, both of my parents smoked in the house and in the car and it was regarded as highly fashionable to be seen with a cigarette in your hand. My Father started smoking during WWII when all soldiers were given a ration of cigarettes.  I still have an old cigarette packet which has on it “no sore throat, no cough”. In the late 1970’s I can recall travelling on planes, where smoking on board was just a normal part of societal practice.  

Over the years there has been a marked cultural shift and it is now generally accepted that if you want to smoke, you smoke in a way that does not impact on others and you respect other people’s desires not to have their lungs, their car or house contaminated by cigarette smoke.

Smoking in bars and in restaurants is now unacceptable. It is therefore exciting to see the preliminary results of New Zealand’s first ever voluntarily smokefree outdoor dining pilot showing that an overwhelming majority of Cantabrians support smokefree outdoor dining. The project which was in partnership between the Cancer Society Canterbury West Coast Division and the Canterbury District Health Board finished its pilot at the end of April. The pilot involved 20 restaurants, 18 of whom saw the project through. 95% of the 1,861 customers who gave feedback on the pilot project supported smokefree outdoor dining.

Martin Witt from the Cancer Society was surprised at how great the appetite was for a smokefree outdoor dining experience. The other surprise was how positively the change had been embraced by the businesses involved. After the six month pilot project, not one of the venues who completed the pilot project reported a decrease in customers and many venues commented that being completely smokefree has been good for business. The adoption of smokefree outdoor dining on a voluntary basis is an exciting development in our community. The results of the pilot show a continuing shift going on in our community and a willingness to adopt a new level of smokefree venues and thinking. The voluntary pilot project surely has created a mandate to ramp up the adoption of smokefree outdoors in facilities across the city. It would be a wonderful thing for Christchurch if such a change of behavior could be voluntarily adopted right across the city without the need for imposing a regulating bureaucracy and legislation to effect change.

As we continue to regenerate our city and the number of hospitality offerings continues to expand. It would demonstrate good leadership if existing and new hospitality offerings throughout the city could voluntarily opt to have smokefree outdoor dining. That would mean that we could all enjoy hospitality, drinking and eating indoors and outdoors in the knowledge that we would not be contaminated by other people’s smoke. It would also demonstrate that Christchurch has hospitality business owners who are prepared to run ahead of an inevitable trend towards a decreasing acceptance of smoking in places frequented by the public, for all of the right reasons.

I will be watching with great interest the next stage of this project. I applaud the Cancer Society Canterbury West Coast Division and the Canterbury District Health Board for taking the initiative to promote smokefree outdoor dining areas. I suspect the vast majority of our residents and visitors will embrace such change positively. I also suspect that those people who wish to continue to smoke will continue their habit in a way that has less and less impact on those of us who are desirous of enjoying a smokefree environment.