PM English shrugs off farmer criticism over National's immigration policy, says work being done on skills lists; Also, we shouldn't forget National's polling is down as well

PM English shrugs off farmer criticism over National's immigration policy, says work being done on skills lists; Also, we shouldn't forget National's polling is down as well

By Alex Tarrant

Bill English is shrugging off criticism from some of the National Party’s most supportive sector stalwarts over last week’s immigration policy.

Having the terms “fallen on deaf ears” and “disappointed” (twice!) thrown at National over policy usually wouldn’t raise any eyebrows. But when Federated Farmers and Dairy NZ both have a beef with National over the same issue, then it shouldn’t be ignored.

The criticism comes at an interesting time. While most of the attention of the last few days’ polling results has focussed on Labour’s woes, National is also down in a couple of them – over two points (but within the margin of error) to 45.2% in the Newshub-Reid Research one on Monday (although unchanged at 47% in the 1 News poll Sunday).

Remember, National needs at least 47% to get back in with current partners, ACT, UnitedFuture and the Maori Party if their votes hold. Else, it’s English’s old mate Winston Peters. Another one to note: English’s preferred Prime Minister rating was also down on Monday, from a net 43% in June to 26% in July.

As the election approaches, English should be able to blindly rely on support from players like the Feds and Dairy NZ. Lack of criticism would imply he’s doing alright by National’s rural support base. Now, we shouldn’t be alarmist - it doesn’t look like there’s any risk of a large farmer exodus from that support base (who would they turn to?) - but it doesn’t look pretty a few months out from an election that this mud is being hurled by friends.

Trouble down the cow shed

In April, National announced several potential changes to immigration policy. To enter New Zealand under a Skilled Migrant Category visa, a worker would be considered sufficiently skilled if they earned more than $48,000 and had a job in the top three skills levels as rated by Immigration NZ.

Other changes meant those less lucky would only be allowed in for three years, without family, face annual reviews and a two-year stand-down outside the country at the end before being allowed back in again.

This annoyed the farming lobby – most farm workers (everyone apart from Mr Farmer and his manager below him) were classed below level three on the skills lists. The lobby, along with tourism, horticulture and hospitality bosses, told the government that these were bad proposals. Three years would be spent training someone up, then they’d have to leave.

Not to fear, English and Immigration Michael Woodhouse said. They’ll tweak the policy. A huge sigh of relief from these sectors – until they were told last week what the changes were. A reduction from $48,000 to a $41,000 floor was the key change. Problem was, farm workers were still classed outside the top three skills levels.

The Feds, in quite a strongly worded press release for them, used terms like “we are disappointed” and “fallen on deaf ears” in a response headed “Government’s Fiddling With Immigration Doesn’t Help Rural NZ.”

Dairy NZ was also “disappointed” by the announcement. But they did say they were looking forward to seeing how the government would tackle the skills list problem – Woodhouse promised to review this, although details were scarce.

English on Monday said the system used to determined how skilled a job was, “isn’t particularly flexible.” So, there will be ongoing discussion about whether farm worker categories can be bumped up the lists.

Speaking at his post-Cabinet press conference, English said he wasn’t surprised about criticism that the government wasn’t running a loose enough system for everybody. It was the government’s job to find the right balance, and industry groups weren’t necessarily concerned with that having to happen.

He wheeled off a list of industries that were affected by the original proposals: Farming, hospitality, the rest home industry, horticulture, freighting/trucking operators, contractors, builders “all indicated concerns.”

Some would be happy, some not so happy. That’s not surprising. What is though, is who’s not so happy this close to an election. English will be hoping Woodhouse is able to get the announcement out about changing those skill set lists soon. Having National enter a campaign without support from the farming lobby would be like Labour going in without any union backing.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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It is politics: Bill has the farmers vote - they may complain but they won't vote for any of the other parties.

Of course if I owned a farm I would not be happy paying and training a fellow Kiwi a responsible wage for a responsible job if the farmer down the road was paying 3rd world wages for the same work.

This issue has to be tackled head on - either use Kiwis and pay them appropriately and find profits and exports declining a little but rural economy improving. Or just more of the same until the 3rd world is empty and NZ is full.

Bill has the farmers' vote and the farmers have the irrigation subsidies. Surely this is trade enough?

Yea, the level of subsidisation in dairy farming is ridiculous.
We've been doing dairying for over 100 years in New Zealand, with exceptional levels of natural factor endowment, and we still need to rely on subsidies?!
It's a joke to still be doing this on a commodity product.

Take the subsidies away and invest in the professional services sector.


Dairy farmers have forgotten how they got where they are. They got there from sharemilking, not from owners grabbing 3rd world cheap labour.


"He wheeled off a list of industries that were affected by the original proposals: Farming, hospitality, the rest home industry, horticulture, freighting/trucking operators, contractors"
A list of industries long known for paying poorly and/or long hours poor conditions. Ever thought of upping your game a bit guys, maybe a bit late for some, farming has certainly shat in its own nest on that one since for ever.
Despite believing dairy farming to be a viable career choice there is no way I'd push someone in that direction due to the better than even chance of imediately encountering a horror job.

What kiwi wants to work 6 weeks in a row, 4:30am starts on minimum wage

Dairy NZ was also “disappointed” by the announcement. But they did say they were looking forward to seeing how the government would tackle the skills list problem. Shame on this and other similar sectors, pay kiwi citizens a fair wage and upskill them in house instead of as said "grabbing 3rd world cheap labour."
National will get the rural vote regardless, but they are aware the rest of us will determine their fate!

... a single milky tear runs down my cheek ... at the plight of those suffering Cow Cockies ... sitting atop their multi $ million tax free capital gains ... surrounded by E.coli polluted waterways , and cheap imported third world labourers ...

Boo Hoo ? ... Moo who !

No capital gains for a while now Gummy. I had quite a chat with a real estate agent a short time ago. There are many, a great many, of the older type owners who are desperate to get out. Apparently profit years have been few and far between. Drought, large capital infrastructure requirements and a payout that has been bipolar. Debt has spiralled. The question posed to the agent is this...can you sell me out with enough left over to buy a small drystock farm? The agent told me that apart from there being very few of these drystock farms available he was struggling to see how these properties would sell for much more than the debt incurred. Now with Healthy Rivers threatening the viability of these farms he thinks they will be broken up. Cowsheds mothballed. The agent has been in the game for 30 years that I know of.

The rise of corporate and large dairy farms (herd size 1000+) has resulted in fewer opportunities for aspiring young farmers to a) sharemilk and b) own their own farm.

According to some in the industry (who tend to be more modest with their herd numbers) banks have often advised them against employing sharemilkers who take 50% of the cheque rather, we'll lend you 60% for the herd and you employ a farm manager on 60-70k.
As a result the opportunity for sharemilkers to enter the industry has been squeezed by the very people who complain that they cannot find motivated and reliable folk to work on their farms.

I often wonder whether the amount of dairy effluent wafting through the air has impacted on the dairy farmer's ability to think rationally when it comes to staffing and expectations of pay.

Seems the farming industry is not immune from the penchant for sacrificing the younger generations' opportunities for a few more quick bucks in the short term. Still expecting the young generations to fund their pension at the end of it, obviously. Goes without saying.

Indeed dobrydan. Farming, Farming people, New Zealand society, and it's economy, would be better with more owners and fewer workers.
Not sure though how to pull back to what we once had.

It's a cycle created from policy.
It is the obsession with Big is Better. It suits the IRD, Comcom, OIO, Stats NZ and a plethora of other bureaucracies....

If Labour is DOWN , the Greens are DOWN and National is DOWN in the polls who is UP ?

Greens and NZFirst are up. But I think you'll find Labour steal back some of those voters from the Greens after the leadership change. I think Jacinda will also draw women from across the spectrum.


Bill moans about the lack of inflation, tells workers to ask for more pay, and then cuts their legs off by allowing mass migration of cheap third world labour because some employers don't want to pay living wages.. Time for the rich to give a bit back, and for resident workers, whether migrants or otherwise, to get a fair deal and some security. Trickledown, right-leaning economic policies have created a vastly unequal society.

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