Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Finance Minister Grant Robertson and the Cabinet

The Government yesterday struck back after its defeat in the Hamilton West by-election with big changes to the immigration green list.

But that is just a start.

We are about to see what will amount to a  political reset.

What is sounding like a reinvention of the Government is likely this week to include a list of Ministers who will retire, and at some point in the New Year, we can expect to see controversial legislation being dropped.

The merger between RNZ and TVNZ, which is still before a Select Committee, could be one of the casualties, as could the proposed social insurance scheme.

But first, possibly today, the Prime Minister is expected to confirm a  list of Cabinet retirements.

That will pave the way for a substantial Cabinet reshuffle in the first quarter of next year.

Dunedin MP David Clark’s name has already been leaked; possibly three or four others are expected to join him.

And then will come the promotions.

Expect to see names like Mana MP Barbara Edmonds, Palmerston North MP Tangi Utikere, Auckland list MP Camilla Belich and Dunedin list MP (and favourite to replace  Clark in Dunedin) Rachel Brooking brought into Ministerial roles; not necessarily within the Cabinet but certainly on the Ministerial list.


The likely government strategy was set out in a tweet yesterday from the former Chief of Staff to Andrew Little, Neale Jones.

“I’m always cautious about drawing conclusions about general elections from by-elections,” his post said.

“Labour’s challenge is the same as it was before; Have a clear message, back it up with easily deliverable policies, and be ruthless about dropping anything that distracts from that message.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appeared to confirm that approach at yesterday’s post-Cabinet press conference.

“I’m giving Ministers this summer to go away and look at our legislative programme and different policies to consider, and then get into the situation of ruling in or out a whole bunch of policy,” she said.

There are major issues either under Cabinet consideration or before Select Committees, most notably the two resource management reforms bills and the He Waka Eke Noa farm emissions levy proposals.

The Government is unlikely to scrap them, but controversial proposals like the broadcasting merger and the social insurance (which no longer has employer support) are said to be prime candidates for the backburner.

The immigration changes yesterday were probably inevitable but nevertheless signalled a substantial change in emphasis by the Government.

In May, the prime Minister announced the creation of the “Green List.”

“From the outset, this list will cover 56 roles on a straight-to-residence pathway and 29 roles on a two-year work-to-residence pathway,” she said.

The jobs on the list would be reviewed after 12 months initially, then every three years after that.

Since then, however, the Government has come under continual fire from the Opposition and business over the lack of workers in the economy.

Last month reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr warned that the shortage of workers was one of the main forces pushing inflation.

“Without doubt, labour has never been more scarce,” he told a Parliamentary Select Committee.

He told NewstalkZB that the Government’s immigration settings were a handbrake in terms of controlling inflation.

“More labour would be better,” he said.

“Everyone has told the Government that.”

Challenged by National’s Finance spokesperson, Nicola Willis, in the House the same day, Finance Minister Grant Robertson gave the first hint that change was underway, that the 12-month review of the Green list could come earlier.

“Immigration is an area where I know that New Zealanders are looking to see some improvement in terms of the number of people who can come in for jobs,” he said.

And: “We will continue to look at our immigration settings so that they can support the workforce that we need in New Zealand.”

That was three weeks ago, but the Hamilton by-election seems to have brought forward the announcement that was made yesterday.

POLITIK has learned that one sector group was approached as recently as last Friday (when Labour sources were telling POLITIK they were expecting a low poll) and asked whether there were positions it would like on the Green list.

Four new roles were added to the straight-to-residence category, including nurses and registered auditors.

A lack of auditors has been holding up some Government and local government audits.

The Green List category that allows a person to apply for residency after two years has been expanded with the addition of 10 roles, including drainlayers, school teachers and halal slaughterers.

For over a year, Meat Industry Association (MIA) chief executive officer Sirma Karapeeva has been calling for more visas for halal slaughterers.

She said the industry required 250 workers throughout New Zealand but had only filled 100 positions with a mixture of New Zealand residents and migrants on open work visas.

The Government had offered only 15 extra visas, she said in March this year.

The decision to put nurses on the instant path to residency cuts across advice given to Cabinet in April when Immigration argued that there was a 6 per cent workforce exit rate of nurses from abroad compared to 4 per cent of New Zealand-trained nurses.

Health Minister Andrew Little, who had queried the decision, was told there was a real risk of “creating a relatively easy pathway for large numbers of migrants to rapidly seek residence if this offer is granted too widely or in roles where retention is a known issue”.

“We raised this topic with the Ministry of Health and were aligned in the view that due to retention concerns post-residence, these roles were better placed on a work-to-residence path, which will still provide certainty and support to attract migrant workers into these roles. We have not changed the placement of these roles,” the Cabinet paper said.

The prime Minister ducked questions on the change of policy which from yesterday allows the nurses to go straight to residence.

Asked what had changed, she said: “Well, obviously, even that pathway (the two-year path to residence)  has made a difference—4,500 internationally qualified nurses have applied to the Nursing Council. But what we’re seeing is a globally competitive environment. We see shortages around the world. Coming into our winter period, we want to make sure that we have a very clear and simple message amongst that competition, and that message is, Come to New Zealand.”

The Government will have been polling and using focus groups intensively as its ratings began to fall in the public polls and when it realised it could lose in Hamilton West.

What we are now seeing is the beginning of its own political resentment. There will be more to come.