Winston Peters hits back at criticisms of NZ First's immigration stance, says immigration debate is about race and ethnicity; Attacks govt for using up economic national capital built up by previous generations

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has hit back at criticisms of his immigration stance, attacking both National and Labour, the media and several academics on their own positions.

In a wide-ranging speech that also touched upon the Reserve Bank Act, water quality, climate change, small business and tourism, Peters used the majority of time to defend himself against accusations that his position might be racist or xenophobic.

“You’ve got to be in the Looney Tune world if you think that immigration, when it’s raised, is a racist attack on somebody. By definition, immigration’s about race; it’s about ethnicity,” Peters told a Wellington Chamber of Commerce breakfast Wednesday morning, hosted by PwC.

“You know New Zealand First is on the march by the number of people ganging up on us on this matter,” he said. The speech included numerous attacks on New Zealand’s “largely foreign owned” media – he reiterated comments made about how two NZ Herald journalists of Asian heritage had covered immigration statistics.

The NZ First leader also said the government was trying to propagate a “myth” that New Zealand could somehow “absorb a staggering influx of over 70,000 net immigrants a year at no cost.”

“Or, they say, ‘this is a sign of the roaring success our country is because so many people want to come here’. That’s a staggering statement. Most of the world, ladies and gentlemen, is a hell hole,” Peters said.

“If you can get out of some country and get to this country then you’ll do the best you possibly can. It’s not a sign of our staggering success, it’s a sign of the lax, loose policies we have employed that have allowed so many people to come here.”

The annual influx meant New Zealand required new infrastructure similar in size to that of Rotorua every year, he said. “Pray tell me you’ve observed that.”

Meanwhile, Peters touched on falling home ownership rates among New Zealanders, saying they were staring down “Generation Rent” – a term coined here by the economist Shamubeel Eaqub. Peters criticised Eaqub’s own criticisms of New Zealand First, but did say they at least agreed on New Zealand’s infrastructure deficit.

Peters began his speech by saying immigration was having a devastating impact on New Zealand’s economy. “The massive immigration influx is distorting all the economic indicators,” he said. He claimed that New Zealand’s 2% per capita GDP growth was negated by 2% annual population growth.

He also attacked the government for consuming capital built up by previous generations. “Living off capital as a personal theme is not smart for an individual. And it’s certainly not smart for a nation,” he said.

“A country’s capital is both physical and human. It includes the existing stock of housing, schools, hospitals, roading and other infrastructure as has been built up over decades. And all the human capital New Zealanders have acquired through their education and training,” he said.

Government had been drawing down on the country’s economic capital in order to boost economic growth, he said. “At best, it’s a short term fix, but when it’s supplied as a country’s policy, it is courting disaster.”