By PHILIP CHANDLER
Despite spiralling numbers of unemployed Kiwis, Queenstown’s MP believes the resort still needs to keep hold of its skilled migrants.
“The current government think there will be more than enough jobs just for Kiwis,” Hamish Walker says, “but we operate a bit differently down here in Queenstown”.
“We need to ensure we have that migrant workforce to keep the town going.”
Walker distinguishes between skilled migrants, like chefs, who have been here for several years – “we need to protect them” – as against overseas holidaymakers coming here for a year.
“Some of these [former] people were only months away from having the right to stay here for good – it’s heartbreaking.”
Walker, named the National Party’s associate tourism spokesperson by new leader Todd Muller, says he’s “lobbying very hard” for the return of an Immigration New Zealand office in Queenstown.
“What people need at the moment is certainty around government [immigration] policy.”
He’s vowing to give the tourism sector a voice – “at the moment you’ve got a minister [Kelvin Davis] that’s asleep at the wheel, and in fact he’s not actually at the wheel”.
“I raise Queenstown’s voice every opportunity I get in Parliament, including lobbying the minister in the first few weeks of Covid to give us some attention.
“They don’t value the sector by giving it 0.5 per cent out of the new money in the Budget [for a $400 million recovery programme].”
He contrasts that with Muller announcing during his June 5 visit to Queenstown – only two weeks after rolling Opposition leader Simon Bridges – a $100m ‘tourism accelerator’ programme.
“The major difference is the government’s policy is administered by a bunch of officials with clipboards in Wellington that have no idea what we need down in Queenstown, or what the sector needs.
“Our policy’s different – it will be the people in the sector that lead it.
“But quite clearly the most pressing issue right now is getting that Australian border open.”
Asked why National’s tourism spokesman Todd McClay hasn’t been sighted yet, Walker says he was due to visit with his new leader two weeks ago, “but he couldn’t get here because of flights”.
“Todd will be visiting in the coming weeks, but obviously I’m the MP down here and I’m associate tourism, so I work very closely with Todd.”