Rachel Smalley: Govt got it wrong on refugees

Author
Rachel Smalley ,
Publish Date
Fri, 4 Sep 2015, 7:27AM
Prime Minister John Key (Getty Images)
Prime Minister John Key (Getty Images)

Rachel Smalley: Govt got it wrong on refugees

Author
Rachel Smalley ,
Publish Date
Fri, 4 Sep 2015, 7:27AM

It’s been a very interesting week for John Key and the National Party.

I think the party's strategists thought their centre-right voter base would support them when it came to the refugee crisis. But as more and more horrific images have been beamed around the world, it's become clear that an increasing number of New Zealanders feel we should be doing more.

The images are horrendous.

Dead Syrian children washing up on European beaches. Distraught mothers holding their babies and looking through razor wire. People dying, suffocating in trucks trying to flee their desperate and dead-end situations.

The situation has deteriorated and rapidly. It is nothing, if not emotive.

National's tough talk at the start of the week has softened in the last 24 hours. And so it should. The government spent a small fortune of taxpayer dollars securing a seat on the UN Security Council, and then, when faced with our first big decision, the government looked at this issue from a populist domestic perspective.

That's where the government got it wrong. It's a global issue. It requires a global response.

So now the Prime Minister is beginning to move. He says he’s not ruling out looking at whether we could do more. That's a signal that he’s shifting on this. But like all things political, he can’t move too quickly – it has to appear that it's the government's decision and that he’s not simply appeasing the public or, god forbid, the opposition.

Will he lift the quota soon? No, I don't think he will. He may bring forward a review of the quota, and raise it next year - but i don't think he will do it now. But he does have to respond to what we’re seeing in Europe. It could be that he allows a small emergency intake. 100 or 200 people, perhaps. And that will take the pressure off the government for the moment, and appease the growing chorus of critics.

Doing nothing is not an option. Will it change the situation in the Middle East? No. Of course not. The problem is huge. But there can be no defence for doing nothing.

National will have been polling behind the scenes on this issue, and I think we can read between the lines as to what the results of that poll were - when faced with the biggest humanitarian crisis on the planet today, our government got it very, very wrong.