Various readers have commented in recent weeks on the United Nations Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration, due to be signed next week by as many governments as can be mustered in support. I’d had a quick skim through it and decided not to write about it here, as not only was it a non-binding political declaration, but most of it seemed more relevant to countries dealing with substantial illegal migration (and with migration mainly from very poor or disrupted countries – again, not the main situation in New Zealand). And, as I pointed out to various readers, who needs the United Nations for immigration policy and practice to cause problems at home. We have successive New Zealand governments, cheered on by the business and political “elites”, to do that for us.
But when I saw yesterday that the National Party – as pro-immigration as they come – had indicated that (a) it would not support signing, and (b) it would withdraw from the agreement when it returned to government, I thought I should take another look. It would, after all, be unusual to find myself in more of a middle-ground position on immigration issues that the National Pary. Then it emerged that the current government has still not yet decided whether to sign up. My suspicion remains that National’s stance is more about positioning relative to New Zealand First – the contest for provincial votes – than anything of substance.
Overseas, I was aware that the United States and Australia had decided not to sign, as well as a few eastern European countries – including some places whose democratic credentials are no longer unimpeachable. But when I went looking, I found this article suggesting the pushback in Europe is spreading. Austrian and Italy have refused to sign, and governments in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands are under pretty intense pressure (from within). In Holland, for example
The government ordered a legal analysis of the text last week to ensure that signing it will not entail any legal consequences. The Cabinet finally decided on Thursday that it would support the pact, but would add an extra declaration, a so-called explanation of position, to prevent unintended legal consequences.
So I reread the document, more slowly this time. I can’t see any substantive need for the document – it seems more about political rhetoric and framing than anything else – and have long been deeply sceptical that the United Nations adds any value to anything much. And, yes, the document has a pro-migration tinge to it (it talks of wanting to “promote” migration) and a rather “globalist” set of presuppositions (including the demonstrably wrong statement – especially in the context of remote island states – that “no State can address migration alone”). But that doesn’t mark it out from dozens of pointless international fora and international declarations. And there is little doubt that the “elite” mindset, in Europe and its offshoots anyway, is mostly pretty strongly pro-immigration.
But it still isn’t clear to me quite what additional damage would be done by signing up to this pointless agreement. Sure, even “non-binding” agreements will, at times, be used in domestic and international fora as a rhetorical stick to beat governments with if they ever look like stepping out of line with the mainstream. But those sorts of arguments rarely deflect a government for long if it has domestic public opinion behind it in some direction or another (for good or ill).
There is some questionable economics in the document. For example
Promote effective skills matching in the national economy by involving local authorities and other relevant stakeholders, particularly the private sector and trade unions, in the analysis of the local labour market, identification of skills gaps, definition of required skills profiles, and evaluation of the efficacy of labour migration policies, in order to ensure market responsive contractual labour mobility through regular pathways.
Or, alternatively, one could just let the market work it out. When there are incipient skill shortages, wage rates tend to rise. Same thing happens when, for example, bad weather creates a shortage of spinach or lettuce. But, daft as the economics is, this stuff is the mindset of politicians and officials adminstering immigration schemes all over the western world. including New Zealand. Recall that in New Zealand the current government is trying to get more actively involved in this sort of thing.
There are also totally vacuous bits, like the commitment to support and promote the United Nations International Day of Family Remittances. Just what the world needs: another United Nations “day”.
Perhaps three clauses troubled me a little more.
There was this one
Enable political participation and engagement of migrants in their countries of origin, including in peace and reconciliation processes, in elections and political reforms, such as by establishing voting registries for citizens abroad, and by parliamentary representation, in accordance with national legislation.
I guess I can see what they are probably driving at (diasporas helping the reconstruction of the country of origin after say a protracted civil war). But, normally, we should expect migrants to commit themselves to their new country and its processes and political values and not be creating doubts about where their loyalties lie. But in a country in which Jian Yang and Raymond Huo are MPs – while still closely associating themselves with political interests in their country of origin – and people like Yikun Zhang appears encouraged to play both sides – it is hard to see how this particular provisions make things here any worse than they already are (around a small handful of our migrants).
And then there was this one
Promote mutual respect for the cultures, traditions and customs of communities of destination and of migrants by exchanging and implementing best practices on integration policies, programmes and activities, including on ways to promote acceptance of diversity and facilitate social cohesion and inclusion.
Which presents the issues as symmetric when they really should be asymmetric: the focus should be on encouraging the assimilation of the migrants, and ensuring their respect for the “cultures, traditions and customs” of the destination community – just as when you go to someone else’s place for dinner you respect their practices, table manners etc. One could also argue that encouraging “acceptance of diversity” and facilitating “social cohesion” are two contradictory, often mutually inconsistent, goals. But again, flakey as all this stuff is, it is the way our bureaucratic and political “leaders” think and act anyway. If the behaviour is a threat, it is hard to see that the UN agreement would be more of one.
Support multicultural activities through sports, music, arts, culinary festivals, volunteering and other social events that will facilitate mutual understanding and appreciation of migrant cultures and those of destination communities.
Quite what business this is of the UN – or even of national governments actually – one has to wonder, but there is the “globalist” mindset for you. And, again, it is pretty much what central and local governments do anyway. I was interested that “religion” wasn’t on the list
And then, of course, there is Objective 17 (of the 23 in the document) which I have seen people express more serious concern about.
OBJECTIVE 17: Eliminate all forms of discrimination and promote evidence-based public discourse to shape perceptions of migration
We commit to eliminate all forms of discrimination, condemn and counter expressions, acts and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, violence, xenophobia and related intolerance against all migrants in conformity with international human rights law. We further commit to promote an open and evidence-based public discourse on migration and migrants in partnership with all parts of society, that generates a more realistic, humane and constructive perception in this regard. We also commit to protect freedom of expression in accordance with international law, recognizing that an open and free debate contributes to a comprehensive understanding of all aspects of migration.
If that isn’t muddled I don’t know what is – let alone, unrealistic (in no conceivable world are “all forms of discrimination” going to be “eliminated”).
The specifics under that Objective include commitments to
Enact, implement or maintain legislation that penalizes hate crimes and aggravated hate crimes
So-called “hate crime” legislation is almost always bad law and bad policy. Punish assaults or murders or whatever as that: bad and unacceptable acts, regardless of who they are committed against or why.
Promote independent, objective and quality reporting of media outlets, including internet based information, including by sensitizing and educating media professionals on migration-related issues and terminology, investing in ethical reporting standards and advertising, and stopping allocation of public funding or material support to media outlets that systematically promote intolerance, xenophobia, racism and other forms of discrimination towards migrants, in full respect for the freedom of the media.
Again, muddled at best. You want to stop any public funding to outlets whose views are “unacceptable”, while having “full respect for the freedom of the media”. Since I’m not entirely convinced there is a good case for public funding of any media outlets – and since the publicly-funded outlets in New Zealand are champions of high immigration and all “worthy” leftist causes anyway – it isn’t clear what difference this might make in New Zealand. And there seem to be some MPs – particularly in Labour and the Greens – who aren’t too keen on allowing free speech on such issues anyway, whether or not we sign up to UN non-binding declarations.
And finally under Objective 17
Engage migrants, political, religious and community leaders, as well as educators and service providers to detect and prevent incidences of intolerance, racism, xenophobia, and other forms of discrimination against migrants and diasporas and support activities in local communities to promote mutual respect, including in the context of electoral campaigns.
All very asymmetric – nothing at all about engaging with communities that might be uneasy about high immigration, or the immigration of groups with values antithetical to those of the destination community. Perhaps, in some respects, this commitment troubles me more than most. “Intolerance” is not an offence (in principle or in law) and it is the perfect right of people to debate – perhaps especially in election campaigns – the future composition of their society. A Saudi Wahhabi, a Chinese Communist Party zealot, an American evangelical, and a French secularist are all very different sorts of people. In large numbers, each group transplanted to (say) New Zealand would make a material difference to the society and polity we have here. Those debates matter – unless, apparently like the authors of this document – you regard all differences of culture, politics, religion etc as superficial rather than fundamental.
As I said at the start, there is no obvious need for this document. And even if there were obvious gaps, the very fact that it is a non-binding political declaration suggests it could meet no substantive need. But in a New Zealand context, there are policies and practices around immigration that are much more damaging and threatening, particularly to our long-term economic performance, and perhaps in other areas too. Among them:
- the immigration policies of the National Party
- the immigration policies of the Labour Party
- the immigration policies of the Green Party
- the immigration policies of ACT, and
- the immigration policies of New Zealand First
I think that pretty much covers the spectrum.
There is no conceivable universe in which some international declaration – or even agreement – around immigration would be more liberal and (in our specific economic circumstances) more damaging than what our political parties have done to us all by themselves.