Mark Wilson: Immigration – turning off the tap will kill us


OPINION: Congratulations to Labour and the Greens for wooing Winston and forming a new government.

I’m picking the yoga lessons taken in opposition helped keep your hamstrings flexible enough to accommodate the bending required to meet Winston’s demands?

While myself and 59 per cent of our electorate who voted for National will be disappointed, I appreciate equally there will also be many locals ecstatic with the outcome.

One group that won’t be dancing a jig at the result are our foreign workers on temporary visas and those wishing to work their way towards residency and one day call themselves a Kiwi and eventually after a few more years a local in the Wakatipu.

Another group equally unhappy will be those who employ them.

Immigration, be it temporary or permanent, has not only helped shape our region, it is essential to its future.

I ask you this, when was the last time you had a pint poured by a Kiwi and, tourism and hospitality employers, how many of you employ more Kiwis than foreigners? I often have it exclaimed by friends who visit that they can get through an entire trip to Queenstown without meeting another New Zealander bar me.

Whether you like it or not, the reality of the situation is we rely heavily on our friends from other lands to keep the lights on and the tills ringing and Winston Peters has this group well and truly in his sights.

Winnie and his red and green posse won’t always agree on things but the noises coming out of the Beehive are sounding ominous for our area in this regard. Winnie wants us to find, hire and, if need be, train Kiwis. Employers, hands up if you haven’t already tried this? Not many hands, I’m picking.

So Winston and Jacinda, if tourism is such a key plank in our economy (as farming is definitely not on your combined Xmas card list), how is it you expect us to staff our businesses and continue to deliver a world-leading visitor experience without access to the labour force we need?

Before we start, the current system barely works, cutting it back is unconscionable.

We are the shop window for NZ’s tourist industry, a premium destination that needs to offer premium service.

We cannot simply transport unemployed graduates from WINZ university to Queenstown and expect them overnight to become personable and highly-skilled service staff pouring cocktails at our best bars, nor can we throw a trainee badge on them for weeks and months as they get up to speed, that’s assuming these people even exist and are willing to move.

This is the world cup of the tourism industry – we need battle-ready staff or at least ones who are easy to upskill.

Even if we could find suitably-skilled Kiwis, they often tell us they can’t afford the cost of living here in the long run.

We know it’s bloody expensive to live here and it’s true we don’t always pay the best wages but we are lucky as many of our foreign visitors come not for money but for a memorable lifestyle experience.

For someone who isn’t looking to build a career and stay forever, and even for some of those who are, our lifestyle is enough to attract skills and experience far in excess of what we could ever afford to pay for or hope to get locally.

Finally, we are like many other global resorts, a multinational melting pot of cultures and experiences and it’s made us, at least in my view, a better place to live. I love the diversity and I know visitors enjoy it.

We have created something special in regard to the varied and dynamic group of people who call Queenstown home for a season or for life and I’d hate to lose this.

Winnie’s racist xenophobia and his 1970s command and control economic policy could derail us badly down here. Jacinda, we implore you to listen to us on immigration and keep him in check.

Mark Wilson is both a National and international fan