In a recent blog post, I drew attention to the fact that New Zealand’s leading pro-abortion activist, Terry Bellamak, is an American. She has brought to the abortion debate the type of aggressive, hard-ball approach that you might expect from a driven New York feminist and former executive of Goldman Sachs (which she is). Bernard Moran of Voice for Life describes her as coming from the “whatever it takes” school of political combat.
I also pointed out that the examples of bad behaviour by anti-abortion protesters that Bellamak cited in an article for The Spinoff supporting 150-metre “safe zones” outside abortion clinics were all from America. I suggested that as long as we’re stuck with Bellamak, surely the least she could do is deal with the situation as it applies here, not in Colorado or Arizona. But of course it suited her purpose to portray the New Zealand anti-abortion lobby in the worst possible light, and to hell with the facts.
There’s a broader issue here. As immigration has ramped up, so New Zealand has become home to an increasing number of activists, political aspirants, bureaucrats and academics from countries whose values and mindsets are often dissimilar to ours. They arrive with attitudes moulded and fixed in societies that are, in some cases, thoroughly f**ked up (Somalia and Mexico, for example, though some might say that description also applies to the US) and which can teach us nothing about freedom, wellbeing or human dignity. But that doesn’t prevent these recent arrivals from insinuating themselves into positions of prominence and influence here, stridently finding fault with the way we do things and demanding that New Zealand – an exemplar of liberal democracy and a country respected worldwide for its human rights credentials – reshape itself to conform to their radical ideological prescriptions.
I’m aware that this sounds like textbook xenophobia, but generally speaking, I’m pro-immigration. Would I be happy to have neighbours from Iraq, Zimbabwe or Vietnam? Too right I would. I welcome ethnic and cultural diversity, though always with the proviso that immigration be managed carefully so as not to destabilise the host country or provoke a backlash.
But here’s the thing. Logically, immigrants are drawn to New Zealand because they recognise this as a country where they can live in peace, own their own homes, get a university degree, enjoy freedom of speech, vote for the politicians of their choice in free and fair elections, practise their religion without let or hindrance and enjoy the protection of the rule of law.
This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t avail themselves of the rights available to native-born New Zealanders: the right to stand for public office, to lobby for political causes, to join political parties, to phone talkback shows and write letters to the editor. In other words, we shouldn't expect immigrants to remain silent and invisible. But neither should they expect those of us who were born and raised here, whose families in many cases have been here for generations, and who have paid taxes and voted in elections all our lives, to welcome newcomers whose first instinct on arrival is to plunge into political activism aimed at refashioning our laws and institutions.
So if agitators like Bellamak, former poverty campaigner Ricardo Menendez-March (now a Green MP with a stonking sense of entitlement) and Black Lives Matter activist Guled Mire sometimes encounter a bit of pushback, it shouldn’t simplistically be dismissed as xenophobia or racism. Those of us who have been here much longer, and who have a lot more invested in this country, not unnaturally tend to resent new arrivals whose foreign-inspired inflammatory rhetoric magnifies points of difference and undermines social cohesion that has been painstakingly cultivated since the 19th century.
A related issue that I’ve banged on about before (here, here and here) is the tendency to fill key public service positions with overseas appointees, usually from Britain. We like to think we’ve grown out of the so-called cultural cringe, whereby we instinctively looked overseas for guidance on how to conduct our affairs, but the evidence suggests otherwise. A particularly egregious example was the Labour government’s appointment of Paul Hunt, a Corbynite socialist academic from England, as Chief Human Rights Commissioner – a position in which he’s capable of causing enormous harm.
Like the aforementioned political activists, these globe-trotting careerists often arrive with a set of values, attitudes and ways of doing things that belongs to another culture and doesn’t necessarily transfer easily to ours. When they screw things up, as they too often do, they are able to fly away without so much as a backward glance and get on with their careers elsewhere, leaving someone else to clean up the mess they’ve left behind.
A contributory factor in all this, of course, is our own complacency and passivity. As I said in a column in 2019: “Because we tend to be passive and polite, we make it easy for shouty, highly motivated outsiders to push their way to the top. But they don’t speak for us.”