Migration pressure is easing – very slowly – but perhaps enough to suffocate the elephant in the room for the Prime Minister before she is forced to tackle it head-on.
The annual net migration gain – the number of new people in the country when you subtract departures from arrivals – fell to 67,984 in the year to March.
That’s about 4500 below the record peak last July – not much, but just the enough for the Government right now.
Immigration policy has been an awkward thing for the Labour Party since it hitched a ride on NZ First’s anti-immigration wave last year under Andrew Little’s leadership.
Jacinda Ardern softened the rhetoric but broadly did not back away from Little’s suggested cuts of 20,000 – 30,000 to annual net migration.
Labour’s stance has even earned Ardern unfavourable and unfair comparisons to Donald Trump.
In reality though, Labour has not been quick to act on any new immigration policy other than to tighten up on rules for student visas.
That’s because it has become clear that going cold turkey on net migration gains would stall an already slowing economy. Ironically, it would slow the building of new housing and infrastructure needed to meet the growing population.
One suspects the lack of action is also because an anti-immigrant stance has never sat well with Ardern and the more progressive end of the Labour party – the team currently running things.
However, the coalition agreement with New Zealand First (which ran with anti-immigration rhetoric and suggested more radical cuts to a net gain of 10,000) has kept some pressure on.