The following post is reproduced with permission from The Hand Mirror:
I received the letter below which I am posting with permission from the author. I’m sorry, but it’s not enough to have your party leader make public platitudes about the importance and value of diversity. If the rest of your MPs don’t have the courage to call out discrimination and to challenge racism, then those platitudes are just a sick joke.
Priyanca tells me she was the only brown face in the room at this event. I’m so sorry that she had to sit through this kind of thing at a public meeting.
Never before was structural discrimination more blatant than at Monday night’s public meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Bill English and Wairarapa MP John Hayes at the Royal Hotel. I attended this meeting along with about eleven other members of the public and left the meeting feeling physically ill.
The conversation began with a discussion around economic issues, primarily related to the forestry industry in the Wairarapa and Hayes, in a bid to assert that high youth unemployment in the region is the result of individual choice as opposed to the lack of employment opportunity, referred to a group of 25 youths who were keen to be employed in the forestry industry of which 22 failed a mandatory drug test. This comment was met with much sighing and shoulder shrugging by a number of members of the audience and by Hayes himself. The discussion quickly deteriorated into a session of benefit-bashing, migrant and refugee-bashing and culminated (for me, as I was unable to take much more and left the meeting shortly before it drew to a close) in Hayes vociferously denouncing MMP as an electoral system that does not work as it “forces” the government to address issues that they had not even mentioned before they came into power – like the foreshore and seabed issue.
A member of the public who was fed up with the social welfare system was resentful that hardworking taxpayers had to support tax bludgers and made a reference to the “900 turbanheads [referring to Sikh men who wear turbans] who are driving our taxis in Wellington” who were misusing the welfare system (I could not quite make the connection between driving taxis and benefit fraud) and his remark was acknowledged with a number of nodding heads and although the Deputy PM attempted to joke that he liked the “turbanheads” the seeds of discrimination were already sown.
The seeds were carefully nurtured during an ensuing discussion on state housing, the “poor job that Housing New Zealand was doing” in ensuring that tenants did not sublet their state homes and fertilised by the Deputy PM’s comment about refugees who “often did not speak any English” and only too easily got straight onto the Emergency Benefit, moved on to the Unemployment Benefit and did not work “even for a day.” Mr English commiserated with audience members who felt that state housing was a waste of time and promised that his government, if re-elected, would ensure that they took a hard line towards state housing. I find this especially interesting considering funding to state housing was slashed by fifty per cent in the 2011 budget from $18.1 million to $9 million despite research that indicated an increased demand for state housing possibly exacerbated by a global economic recession.
Department of Labour research on the economic impacts of immigration 2005 – 2010 points to “investment-induced productivity growth when the number of immigrants increased.” According to the same report, the 2006 census indicated a migrant population of approximately 927,000. It then quotes a research study that estimated that this migrant population had a positive net fiscal impact of $3,288 million in the year 2005/06. The study then compares this with the New Zealand-born population of 3.1 million which had a lower net fiscal impact of $2,838 million.
What I am trying to say here is that migrants make a positive economic contribution to New Zealand despite documented evidence of structural discrimination. Inward migration has also contributed to diversity in terms of food, music, festivals and if we want to go back to economics, contributed to the growth of the tourism industry. Refugees are people who have undergone severe trauma, terror and experienced the loss of homes and loved ones prior to coming to New Zealand. They are accepted into the country under the government’s Refugee Quota Programme on humanitarian grounds.
Given that New Zealand as the host country stands to benefit from inward migration, there are myriad government initiatives to address ethnic inequalities and target structural discrimination. As a result of this, I would expect the current government to set certain standards towards fostering race relations and was appalled at the blatant prejudice and lack of information displayed by the Deputy Prime Minister and this region’s incumbent MP. As a migrant myself, and one who has never accessed social welfare benefits, I was disgusted by the tone of the meeting and the perpetuation of a stereotype that migrants and refugees are bludgers of society.
Instead of tearing the social fabric of this nation apart, I would like to see the National Party work towards educating themselves first before professing to be inclusive and addressing underlying structural causes instead of playing the blame game. It would be great if, along the way, they would also develop some compassion for fellow human beings.
 Otago Daily Times. (2011, May 20). State housing funding cut in half. Retrieved November 23, 2011, from Otago Daily Times: http://www.odt.co.nz/news/politics/161442/state-housing-funding-cut-half