New Zealand’s ethnic population is currently placed at about 500,000.
This diversity is the result of at least three factors, the most significant of which was the change effected by the previous Labour Government to the immigration regime from race-based to merits-based policy.
The second was Labour’s response to those who sought to leave Fiji after the military coups. And the third was the Party’s approach to the refugee quota.
New Zealand has grown to appreciate this diversity, easily identified in our changing cuisine, celebration of ethic festivals, and some impact on art, culture and entertainment.
But we are yet to realise the full potential of such diversity. To do this we need to shift our ethnic relations from symbolism to joint nation building.
Labour’s Ethnic Policy released in Auckland on October 16, 2011, proposes a number of measures to achieve the objective. Its major structural reform will be to establish a new Ministry of Ethnic Affairs (currently it is a third tier Office within the Department of Internal Affairs) to spearhead enhanced engagement with ethnic communities and ensure that they have opportunities to excel at every sphere of New Zealand life.
There is little doubt that New Zealand can and must do better at integrating ethnic communities with indigenous and other New Zealanders and we will not harvest the potential of our diversity until we do that successfully.
An inclusive, contemporary and ethnically diverse New Zealand needs cultivation and the new Ministry will spearhead progress towards that goal. New Zealanders of all ethnicities need to own its future and engage actively in shaping it for our children and grandchildren.
Ethnic communities often feel marginalised by their underrepresentation at decision-making levels and through the provision of services that are dismissive of their particular needs.
Many report “everyday racism” that results in their qualifications not being recognised and lack of opportunities to use their expertise and skills to enhance the development of ‘New Zealand Inc.’
These matters must be addressed systematically and creatively to ensure that we utilise our human potential and contribute to nation building.
New Zealand has the opportunity to organise its surge to diversity much more carefully. However, we must start now and focus on it intensively to guarantee all New Zealanders a superior appreciation of diversity and internalise its potential to contribute to nation building.
The new Ministry will focus on utilising the expertise and knowledge of the ethnic communities to build economic and trade relationships with their countries of origin.
The Diaspora has enormous knowledge about doing business in particular environments and we will do well to use that intelligence systematically.
There is much work to be done to ensure that our immigration policy is responsive to family and communal aspects of settlement.
Many find it difficult to have their families visit them. New Zealand also needs an integrated plan for refugee and migrant settlement and successful strategies and programmes cannot be developed without their proper involvement and well as the involvement of the New Zealand communities.
Labour believes that New Zealand society is enriched by its ethnic diversity and that realising the full potential of our growing diversity cannot be left to chance.
It will depend on the State adopting a deliberate and constructive process to creatively capitalise on this diversity and develop an inclusive contemporary New Zealand identity that recognises our shared histories as citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Labour’s ethnic and related policies are designed to move New Zealand’s ethnic relations purposefully in this direction.
Dr Rajen Prasad is Member of Parliament on Labour List and the Party’s Ethnic Affairs Spokesperson. He is seen here launching Labour’s Ethnic Policy (in the presence of Party Leader Phil Goff and others) at the Diwali Festival organised by the Manukau Indian Association at the Telstra Clear Pacific Events Centre on October 16, 2011.