Time to ditch emergency powers and get back to normal

In News5 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineApril 23, 2021

This week, the Road Transport Forum (RTF) appeared before a Parliamentary Select Committee to talk about immigration.

The Government wants to extend for another two years its emergency immigration law, the Immigration (Covid-19 Response) Amendment Bill, which was put in place in May 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic for one year.

There are a number of reasons the RTF is uncomfortable with this, which we have outlined in our written submission and which we spoke to in person at Parliament.

We have been contacted by employers whose good, hard-working employees have been put into immigration limbo because of the emergency powers in this Bill.

Our industry is not a big employer of casual migrant workers. We are doing everything to employ New Zealanders, including developing our own industry driver traineeship – which we will formally launch in Auckland next week. But we do employ people from other countries who are settled in the community, are valued by their employers who want to keep them here, and before Covid-19 struck, were on their path to New Zealand residency.

Since this Bill was put in place, their immigration status has been uncertain. We believe they will be put under further stress and duress for too long if these emergency powers are extended a further two years. They have been told by Immigration New Zealand they will have to give up their jobs in our industry and get different jobs if they want to progress with residency applications.

That is really concerning, because their employers cannot get other people to do these jobs that require specific training and skills. Some of these people have been here several years and the stress and uncertainty are taking a toll.

Underlying our concerns about individuals impacted by these emergency powers is a deep concern about the message conveyed by extending this Bill.mEmergency powers are only ever intended to be temporary – for the eye of the crisis, as it were. They extend broad sweeping powers to the hands of just a few politicians and they are beyond scrutiny.

The RTF contends that three years – the original year this Bill was put in place for, plus the two-year extension – cannot be considered ‘temporary‘. It‘s the length of a full Parliamentary term.

We believe the landscape is very different to 12 months ago and the time for emergency powers has passed. New Zealand needs to be very clear about its Covid-19 recovery strategy and vaccine rollout. We are still somewhat in the dark on both.

While emergency powers are in place, we believe there should be ongoing policy development to be ready for when the sunset clause comes up – in this Bill, May 2021. We hope that has been happening, but again, the problem with emergency powers is no transparency. As the Bill is tagged ‘temporary‘, it is not subject to the same level of scrutiny as normal legislation. There is no regulatory impact statement, no consultation with external stakeholders, no consideration of unintended consequences, and no economic assessment.

Decision making without a strong evidence base, for a long period of time, is a concern. As is a handful of people in power being able to make decisions without scrutiny, or question.

We weren‘t the only submitters this week calling for more openness and transparency – the very things emergency powers exclude. We also weren‘t the only ones saying a two-year extension to this Bill is too long. We believe six months should be enough to knock into shape the policy development we presume has been underway since May 2020, to inform permanent changes that will fix existing immigration laws.

Given that temporary can extend to three years, we want to know what guarantees there will be in place to ensure this Bill is not extended again.We want to see a move back to normality, rather than fostering fear and exclusion for years to come.

We are uncomfortable with a Government that wants to pull up the drawbridge, fill the moat, and shut out the world while governing under emergency powers until the end of its term.