Why are New Zealanders ambivalent about our growing ethnic diversity?
Why is it that with an ethnic population numbering 500,000, we have neither a comprehensive and well-publicised policy platform nor a clear desire to take full advantage of such diversity for all citizens and the country?
Does the current focus on ‘cultural celebrations’, the rhetoric of ‘diversity of cultures and cuisines’ provide the necessary avenues to enable ethnic communities to contribute their best to New Zealand and to build a permanent home here?
If that is not so, what will it take to create such conditions?
What is the long-term gain to New Zealand from its ethnic diversity if those who have arrived here are put in a position where they simply see this country as a stepping-stone to go somewhere else?
Surely long-term benefits of ethnic diversity will accrue only with a firm commitment to this country and to all of its interests and vice versa.
There is little to New Zealand’s advantage if it provides all of the benefits of operating a business, health, education and life style to ethnic communities, while the centre of their interests remains elsewhere.
However, given the current policy settings and approach to ethnic diversity, we should not be surprised at these unintended consequences.
New Zealand has not created its ethnic diversity from an inherent desire for such a society. It has become ethnically diverse as the by-product of its economic ambitions, fulfilling its responsibilities to the Pacific, refugees and asylum seekers and be a good global citizen.
This happens through business migration, a preference for economic investors, and acceptance of full-fee paying overseas students, family reunification and refugee settlement.
The political system has not developed a powerful framework and policy setting to take full advantage of this diversity.
We need to address the issues on priority.
This can only happen if there was a planning frame that was clear about our own needs in the short, medium and long terms. No such planning framework exists besides a list of professions and trades that are in short supply.
We have a policy that enables overseas students who have graduated to apply for residence but there is a suspicion that this system is being gamed to some extent.
A foul game
People from overseas are able to enrol as full-fee paying students in Private Training Establishments and tertiary institutions expecting their sub-degree courses to qualify them for residence.
We hear stories of underemployment among graduates who often cannot find work in fields appropriate to their qualifications.
The same is true of a large number of people who have gained entry as skilled migrants unable to find appropriate work.
New Zealand has the opportunity to be a world leader in the selection and settlement of people who will help it develop as a modern nation with 21st Century attitudes to ethnic diversity.
An appropriate policy framework to achieve this will position New Zealand to take advantage of trade and social relationships in a globalised world, providing opportunities to all citizens as well as those who make this country their home to enrich their lives in the future.
Countries with an equivocal approach to ethnic diversity will always achieve less than those who subscribe to strategic thinking followed by sound policies.
We are a long way off from achieving our objectives, which is why it is easy for others to make mischief with rhetoric and the license to display their prejudices that offend our ethnic communities.
Dr Rajen Prasad is a Labour Member of Parliament with decades of experience in public offices, especially as Race Relations Conciliator and Chief Commissioner who established the Families Commission. Readers may respond with their views to firstname.lastname@example.org