Dr Nina Hall is concerned that National is joining a club of nationalists in denouncing the Global Compact for Migration

On December 1, I watched a far-right protest in the heart of Berlin. Several hundred protesters, gathered in front of the Brandenburg gate to protest against Global Compact for Migration. They waved German flags (a rare sight) and demanded that Germany remain for the Germans. It was an eerie and alarming display of nationalism next to the Holocaust memorial. However, these voices are a minority, albeit a vocal one, and the German parliament has voted to stay in the Compact. 

I was even more startled to see the National Party parroting far-right protests against the Global Compact on Migration, which was endorsed by 164 states earlier this week. The agreement is notable because it is the first international agreement under the United Nations on migration. Its aim is laudable: to better manage migration. Yet the National party – which claims to be pro-migrant – has come out strongly against the Compact. Their position is misleading as National signed New Zealand up to the Compact negotiations in 2016. Moreover, it is concerning as National joins a club of nationalists including the USA, Hungary, and Poland who eschew global cooperation and international law, and reject the benefits of international migration. 

So what did National say and why was it misleading? 

National Party leader Simon Bridges announced on December 4 that he would pull NZ out of the Global Compact on Migration because “the Compact could restrict the ability of future governments to set immigration and foreign policy, and to decide on which migrants are welcome and which aren’t. While National is the party most open to immigration, we cannot accept this.” This is incorrect as the Global Compact explicitly upholds states’ sovereignty. The preamble (paragraph 15) of the final draft, issued in July, states that: “The Global Compact reaffirms the sovereign right of States to determine their national migration policy and their prerogative to govern migration within their jurisdiction, in conformity with international law.” The agreement does not change the status quo: states can do whatever they want in regulating and managing migration, as long as it does not break existing international laws.

Bridges also claimed that “there is no automatic right to migrate to another country without that country’s full agreement, a view which the United Nation’s Global Compact on Migration, set to be signed next week, seeks to counter”. He is right to point out that the agreement promotes migrants’ rights and well-being, however the agreement neither sanction states that do not uphold migrants’ rights, nor does it assume that all states will adopt the same migration policies as Todd McClay suggests. Furthermore, as Bridges is aware the agreement is a non-legally binding, cooperative framework”. It’s hard to see how in the immediate future the Compact will bind states

Judith Collins also weighed in on the debate, tweeting that: “NZ must never give up our sovereignty to the UN. One of our advantages in immigration is our ability to control our borders because of our physical distance from other countries. Let’s not give up our advantage.” This is misleading not only for the reasons outlined above, but also because the Compact is an international agreement which has been negotiated by over 190 countries over the last two years. Just like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), states choose (rightly or wrongly) what they want the agreement to include, and whether they will abide by it. The negotiations have been chaired by Louise Arbour, the UN’s Special Representative on International Migration but she is working at the behest of states, and neither she nor the United Nations can control ultimately what governments say or do. 

The nationalist club National is joining 

What’s even more concerning is that National is joining a club of nationalists in denouncing the Global Compact. Other countries which have pulled out include: the US, Hungary, Australia, Poland, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Israel. In Italy the deputy Prime Minister, and Minister for the Interior, Matteo Salvini has expressed his desire to pull out and is forcing a parliamentary debate. In Germany the Alternative für Deutschland have campaigned hard to pull Germany out the Compact, but the German parliament voted last week to keep Germany in. 

Bridges and Collins are parroting the far-right. See the similarities for yourselves: The United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, stated in December last year that “we will decide how best to control our borders and who will be allowed to enter our country. The global approach in the New York declaration is simply not compatible with US sovereignty.”  The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, stated in November that: “We have a duty to protect our borders against illegal infiltrators. That’s what we’ve done, and that’s what we will continue to do.” Collins sounds very similar to Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton who stated that: “We’re not going to surrender our sovereignty – I’m not going to allow unelected bodies dictate to us, to the Australian people.” These governments are united in their anti-immigration, xenophobic, and nationalist policies.

Yet National claims to be in favour of migration to New Zealand, as they explain: because it brings skills, capital and connections and makes New Zealand a better, more diverse place. And we support the ability for New Zealanders to travel and live and work overseas should they choose.” So why is it campaigning against an agreement that would help regularise migration and make it a “source of prosperity, innovation and sustainable development”?.

National was a strong supporter of international law and the United Nations when in government. In fact, the John Key government campaigned strongly, and successfully, for a seat at the United Nations Security Council. When they won it Key stated that: We’re a country that’s seen as an honest broker, someone that stands up for what’s right”. Yet National rejected the value of the United Nations, and the benefits of migration, by abandoning the Global Compact for Migration. Let’s hope the New Zealand government doesn’t follow suit, recognises the benefits of global cooperation on migration and signs up to the Compact.

Nina Hall is an Assistant Professor in International Relations at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (Europe) and a founding member of New Zealand Alternative. She has published extensively on the global governance of migration, including the book Displacement, Development and Climate Change, International Organizations Moving Beyond their Mandates (Routledge, 2016). You can follower her on twitter: @ninawth

Nina Hall is Assistant Professor in International Relations at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a founding member of New Zealand Alternative.

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