Dividing by race

Karul du Fresne writes:

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 per cent 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.

And we should be proud of that.

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 (whose members include Bevan Chuang, erstwhile paramour of mayor Len Brown), 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.

This is the problem with special privileges for one race. Others then want the same.

Comments (72)

Login to comment or vote