Wellington, March 5, 2020
There should be little surprise at Shane Jones’ latest racist outburst against Indians living in New Zealand. The typically florid, bombastic, pompous comments were, by his own admission, aimed neither at the Indian community, nor the vast majority of the rest of the country, but rather at just the small percentage of it that identifies as supporters of the New Zealand First Party.
After all, they have had a tough time in recent weeks defending the apparently indefensible way their Party funds itself, so might welcome the Party making the headlines for other reasons.
What better way therefore to make the Party troops feel positive again than trotting out some good, old core message rhetoric as light relief.
No matter the offence the comments understandably and justifiably caused the Indian community, because although they were the group attacked, they were not the group at whom the remarks were aimed. Playing minorities off against the rest of the population in this way is a classic New Zealand First tactic and is the height of electoral cynicism.
But it is also much more than that. It is a blunt expression of New Zealand First’s beliefs.
Moreover, what it really shows is that racially motivated criticisms by New Zealand First MPs are not just some casual occurrence to be brushed aside as “their personal views.”
There have been too many instances of this type of behaviour over the years for them to be dismissed credibly as just coincidence.
Rather, they are at the heart of New Zealand First’s monocultural, anti-immigrant message, which the Party is unashamed and unabashed in promoting.
It is a deliberate pitch to that segment of the population that holds similar views.
A habit for New Zealand First
One only need recall Winston Peters’ quarter century of attacks on non-white migrants; former deputy leader Peter Brown’s outburst that there were too many Asian immigrants coming to New Zealand; former MP Richard Prosser’s references to people from “wogistan,” Ron Mark telling a Korean born MP to “go home,” or Clayton Mitchell’s anti-Semitic comments in Parliament.
The list goes on and on. Shane Jones is no different – he is just playing the same old tune his Party has scratched out for years.
But it is not just the frequent attacks on foreigners and their values that mark New Zealand First out as racist. It has also been the Party most consistently opposed to correcting Treaty of Waitangi imbalances, or enabling greater power-sharing with, or public participation by, iwi in the nation’s life. New Zealand First has always opposed moves in this direction as encouraging separatism, an anti-social justice and equality tactic frequently employed by white-supremacy groups elsewhere.
Deliberate race card
New Zealand First has consistently and deliberately played the race card in New Zealand politics like no other Party in the last quarter century. And given its electoral success in that time it has to be conceded, sadly, that the strategy has succeeded.
Unfortunately, its overt racism has legitimised the latent prejudices of a small group of New Zealanders who have supported New Zealand First as the public expression of their own private bigotry. And, at three of the eight elections held under MMP, that support has been sufficient to put the Party in a key position which it came to government formation.
Battle for survival
However, this year, the Party is locked in a real battle for political survival.
There are steady signs that New Zealanders may be tiring of the New Zealand First presence in Parliament. But, as previous elections have shown, the Party often performs best when its back is to the electoral wall. And it does so by playing to its traditional appeals.
Therefore, during this year’s election campaign, all ethnic and cultural minorities are likely to be targets of some type or other of New Zealand First’s hostility, if it considers that fomenting such division is in its selfish political interests.
After all, it has worked for them in the past, so why would it not do so again.
Unfortunately, therefore, any hope that New Zealand First will moderate its racism in the slightest in the lead-up to this year’s election seems likely to be extremely forlorn.
Ironic and incredible
All the while, it is becoming increasingly ironic and incredible that the Labour Party, which professes itself to the world as progressive, compassionate and kind should be propped up in office by such a regressive, racist coalition partner.
Sadly, while National has already reduced New Zealand First’s relevance for the future by ruling out working with it, Labour is too electorally reliant on New Zealand First’s potential numbers to do likewise. And with the Prime Minister’s do-nothing response to New Zealand First’s racist attacks likely to continue, the country seems set to endure yet more ignorant and intemperate outbursts from Shane Jones and his colleagues over the next few months until the election, when a majority of New Zealanders will have the opportunity to finally put an end to this racism in politics once and for all.
Peter Dunne was a Minister of the Crown under the Labour and National-led governments from 1999 to 2017. He lives in Wellington.