Bill English: NZ needs to maintain positive relationship with US

In the face of global outrage over United States' President Donald Trump's ban on immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority nations, Prime Minister Bill English says New Zealand needs to maintain a positive relationship with the United States.

Speaking to Mike and Trudi on RadioLIVE on Tuesday morning, the Prime Minister said New Zealand needs to put its own interests first.

"Whatever your views on individual policy decisions, they are the world's largest economy, they have a stabilising influence, particularly in our part of the world - in the Asia-Pacific - and we want to work with them where we can," Mr English said.

When asked how he would handle Mr Trump's confrontational style, Mr English said that's something "politicians around the world are trying to figure out".

"The top priority is to focus on New Zealand's interests. In the case of their decision on migrants and refugees, we want to focus on, on the long run, what difference is that going to make for New Zealand?"

But he said the US and New Zealand still have plenty of common ground, "particularly over defence, security. Also on trade, if we can make some headway there eventually."

One of the first executive orders Mr Trump signed when he came into office was to revoke the United States' involvement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Twelve countries, including New Zealand, had spent more than five years negotiating the free market agreement only to have the most influential signatory pull out.

New Zealand urged to take a stand

Opposition parties and advocacy groups in New Zealand have been urging the Government to take a strong stance against Mr Trump's immigration ban.

Red Cross programme development manager Rachel O'Connor says now is the time to consider an emergency intake of refugees.

"We know we have a world-class resettlement programme, and that's exactly why we are in the space we are as a country to actually provide a greater number of places." 

Massey University associate-professor Grant Duncan says New Zealand needs to voice concern.

"I'm disgusted. I think it's absolutely wrong. It's poor public policy. It appears to be unconstitutional and unlawful," he said.

"We have to stop saying, 'Oh no, he won't do those terrible things.' We now have to take him at his word and believe him. He's doing it. He's acting like an authoritarian leader. We have to live with that fact and deal with it as best we can."

This comes after Labour leader Andrew Little accused Prime Minister Bill English of taking a "weak" stance against Trump's ban.

But Mr English says he is "quite happy with the stance" the National Party are taking.

The National Party are not going to become "full commentators on everything Trump does, but in this case, we disagree with the policy," Mr English said.

Labour and Green Party policy is for New Zealand to accept 1500 refugees per year - double the Government's current quota.

In addition to 750 annual quota refugees, 600 Syrian refugees will be accepted into New Zealand through an emergency intake by 2018. 150 places within the quota will be specifically offered to Syrian refugees.

Refugees who arrive in New Zealand spend their first six weeks at the Māngere Refugee Resettlement Centre, where they take part in a programme designed to build social and coping skills required for refugees' new lives.