(First published in The Dominion Post, December 13.)
THE LATEST census confirms what was already obvious: New Zealand has quietly undergone a profound demographic revolution. From being one of the world’s most homogeneous societies, it has become one of the most diverse.One in four New Zealanders was born overseas – an astonishing statistic that makes us one of the world’s most immigrant-friendly societies. Asian ethnic groups have almost doubled in size since 2001.
The change is most dramatic in Auckland, where a 2011 study found that 40 percent of the population was born in another country.What’s even more remarkable is that, in contrast with Britain and Australia, this has been accomplished without any obvious social or racial tension.
Apart from the pressure on housing prices, New Zealand has painlessly absorbed the new arrivals. Our embrace of ethnic diversity confirms that we are essentially a liberal, tolerant and easy-going society.Yet that social harmony is potentially under threat – and the great irony is that the threat comes not from conservative New Zealanders, but from people purporting to represent immigrant groups.
On Jim Mora’s Afternoons programme on Radio New Zealand this week, Dr Camille Nakhid, chairwoman of Auckland Council’s ethnic people’s advisory panel (to which Bevan Chuang, erstwhile paramour of mayor Len Brown, was also appointed), talked about the need for ethnic groups to have more say in local government.No one could object to such groups having an advisory function, but Dr Nakhid, an academic who lectures in something called social sciences (no surprises there), was talking about much more than that.
She believes ethnic representatives should be given a statutory role in decision-making – just like Auckland Council’s non-elected Maori statutory board, whose two members recently exercised a casting vote in favour of a living wage for council employees.Dr Nakhid talked airily about not compromising democratic principles, but in fact was advocating exactly that. She seemed to draw a self-serving distinction between democratic “principles”, which she believes justify special rights for ethnic groups, and something less important called the democratic “process”.
Apparently the tired old idea of one person having one vote doesn’t quite cut it anymore.She talked about the need for ethnic minorities to have “separate but equal” representation with Maori in Auckland – in other words, compounding what is already an abuse of democracy. And she didn’t really answer Mora’s question about how ethnic representation could be arranged when Auckland has an estimated 200 ethnic groups. A minor technicality, no doubt.
If Dr Nakhid had deliberately set out to create friction where currently there is none, she couldn’t have found a better way to go about it. Nothing is more likely to arouse resentment of immigrant groups than demands for privileged treatment.And here’s another thing. We can safely assume one of the reasons so many people immigrate to New Zealand is that it’s an infinitely more democratic society than the ones they left behind. To then call for a change in the way our governance is organised seems downright perverse.
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OUTRAGE is the defining mood of our time. Upset by the way you’ve been treated by a bus driver or an airport security officer? Go to the media and your grievance will be on tonight’s news bulletin and tomorrow’s front page.Offended by a throwaway line from Bob Dylan in a year-old interview about the way some Croatians behaved in World War Two? If you’re fortunate enough to live in France, you can get the state to prosecute him on your behalf under laws governing “hate speech” – one of the most chilling phrases in the language.
Spotted an opportunity to kneecap a couple of talkback hosts you don’t like? Orchestrate a social media campaign to frighten weak-kneed companies into withdrawing their advertising and intimidate the station into taking the hosts off the air.Avowed Marxist Giovanni Tiso did just that in his campaign against RadioLive hosts John Tamihere and Willy Jackson, and must have been thrilled at how easily he was able to make capitalism look gutless. Mass bullying has never been easier than in the era of Facebook and Twitter.
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A LATE CONTENDER has come to hand in the quest for the most flatulent public relations statement of the year. It’s always a hotly contested category, but I think we have a clear winner.Congratulating itself on being named PR Agency of the Year 2013, Professional Public Relations said in a press release: “The award follows a transformational year at PPR. The agency has rolled out an innovative channel agnostic client experience across the company’s seven Australian and New Zealand offices with account teams now providing a mix of owned, earned and bought strategies, services and channels to help brands tell and share their stories.”
You almost have to admire a firm that can display such magnificent contempt for the English language.