I continue to be asked whether New Zealand will lift its annual refugee quota. We’re obviously all concerned about events in Europe, but we need to respond in a calm and measured way.
We have held the limit at 750 per annum for many years, and if you asked most people they would agree that the number’s been about right. 750 is a nice number. It sits tidily between 700 and 800. But now there are calls for us to do more.
And of course we will do more, in the fullness of time, after we have considered all the possible options available to us. Which is why I have asked my officials to go away and look at whether something can be done to expedite the review of options looking at what can be done to address the issue.
We have all been saddened and upset by the terrible images being brought to us. Images of suffering, torment, pain and unbelievable misery. I look at the TV screen and what I see leaves me in tears. I really need to stop watching replays of the All Blacks 2007 Rugby World Cup quarterfinal loss.
ut this refugee business is also a tragedy. People are dying, and thousands of people have found themselves trapped, forced to live in squalor and misery. So I have decided to ask officials to look at the possibility of our doing something more to investigate whether something more can be done to speed up a review of the process to review our refugee quota, in terms of assessing whether we have it at the right number or whether it can be increased, and if so by how much.
When a crisis like this occurs we must all respond in a a decisive manner. True leadership is about doing the right thing when it counts. That means delegating officials to look at all the options, form committees, write papers, organise briefing sessions, go away and write some more papers, form more committees, break for the summer holidays, and then engage in a high level review of those various papers before preparing a further summary paper for the relevant ministers. We’ll then go away and look at those options, and then discuss them with even more officials, before bringing a recommendation to Cabinet to undertake an assessment of the merits of changing the quota.
So we’re serious about addressing this crisis, but we have to act sensibly.
I have a message of hope to those refugees who may at this very moment be adrift on the Mediterranean Sea. Perhaps your flimsy vessel has been obliterated by the pounding waves, and you are even now struggling to keep your head above the water as you cling desperately to your children, and as you pray to your god for rescue.
My message is this: we are listening. We understand your plight. You may even now be drowning in the sea off the Greek coast, but we cannot simply lift you from the water, give you food and clothing, and treat you with dignity and respect, without first thoroughly reviewing all of the options available to us. I’m sure even you appreciate this as you struggle to lift your head above the waves and as you feel your youngest daughter’s hand slipping from your own. We have to do things in a measured and considered way, bearing in mind the potential ramifications of any action we may end up taking. So you’ll just have to hold your breath a little longer.