Opinion: Our new Immigration minister Michael Wood is a kind of unassuming guy.
I always found him quite standoffish when I was in the press gallery. I couldn’t tell if he was a bit cautious with journalists or if he just didn’t like me much - both of which I’ve often found with real party people, died in the wool, ideological MPs.
And Wood is one of those. He’s a Labour guy through and through.
It took a minute but I warmed to him as Transport Minister when he nixed the Auckland cycle bridge. Stupid that it got as far as it did but after a damning poll we ran showed almost the entire country wanted it scrapped. Wood listened. I respect that.
We’ve since had him on this show a few times and I’ve found him really great.
First of all, he always comes on, willing to communicate and be accountable. His predecessor Kris Faafoi, like his boss the Prime Minister, was the opposite.
As Workplace Safety Minister talking to us after a worker was killed at the Ports of Auckland, he was honest about the government’s shortcomings, committed to changing policies and dedicated to fact-finding. He set a nationwide inquiry in train.
None of this fixes the absolute crisis we have with safety in our workplaces but he seemed genuine and that goes a long way in politics.
On Gloriavale, as soon as the damning Employment Court ruling came out, he threw open every possibility for a clamp down with every agency and department he could - Crown Law, Worksafe, MBIE, Police, Oranga Tamariki, Social Development. He wanted to know how to stop abuses of child labour like that from happening again.
Again it doesn’t fix the problem and I fear much of the advice will come back in the too complicated basket but it felt like a minister driven by a real need to make things right.
And so we come to his newest portfolio and why I’m feeling optimistic.
When the Prime Minister announced Wood’s new job as Immigration Minister he was in Oslo - still is actually - at a massive international electric vehicle conference. Trying to source us more options than a Tesla, Prius or Leaf. So we haven’t been able to speak to him yet.
But based on the aforementioned examples of credit where it’s due, here’s how I’m hoping that conversation will go down next when the minister comes on the show…
Me: "Minister, now that the Immigration portfolio is in your hands and given your penchant for workers' rights - surely you’ll immediately reassess the priority immigration green list and add nurses to the fast-tracked residency queue?"
Michael Wood: "Yes Tova, you’re dead right. I do care about workers, I really care about our frontline healthcare workers. I recognise how utterly stretched and overwrought they are and will do everything in my power as newly minted Immigration minister to ease that pressure and recruit nurses from offshore."
Me: "But minister what about all that made-up advice your predecessor Kris Faafoi received that said the sector was worried about retaining those nurses?"
Michael Wood: "Well Tova, you’re dead right. It was made-up advice so I, therefore, do not need to follow it. If the sector does raise any actual real-life concerns with me about keeping nurses here once we get them I’d happily consider a bonding scheme. While we’re at it, I’ll be encouraging the Health Minister to give nurses an urgent pay rise and the Education Minister to announce your excellent fees-free nursing degree policy."
Me: "Wow minister that’s great. Another important immigrant anomaly which really needs fixing - extending the Ukraine special visa to extended families of Kiwi Ukrainians - as you know only a few hundred have been approved - it was supposed to be 4000?
Michael Wood: "You’re dead right, Tova. The policy settings we put in place around the special Ukraine visa were so stupid. Why on earth would we create a blockade within our own policy to prevent it from properly working? Silly us. I’ll fix it immediately."
Me: "Minister Michael Wood, thank you for coming on the show and congratulations on your new role."