Poll tax apology marks a new beginning 4/8

George Hawkins Ethnic Affairs

HON GEORGE HAWKINS
MINISTER FOR ETHNIC AFFAIRS

12 February 2001

Chinese New Year Celebration

Prime Minister Helen Clark, Mr Speaker, my colleagues and
friends, to the many leaders of the Chinese community both here in Wellington
and throughout New Zealand.

Gung hay fat choy!

Chinese New Year is the oldest and the most important festival in the Chinese
community. For five thousand years this auspicious occasion has been celebrated.

Tonight we are here at parliament to celebrate Chinese New Year 2002 - the
year of the Horse.

And this event is one that is absolutely positive. It is a wonderful function
and I am pleased to join with the Prime Minister to host you this evening.

I thank the Rt Hon Helen Clark for her speech and for her support.

Everyday you learn something.

I've been fortunate enough to learn much about the lives of many industrious
and outstanding Chinese New Zealanders.

But more sobering has been my education with respect to the experiences of
early Chinese settlers who first came to New Zealand in the 1860s gold rush.

Those settlers came and worked on the goldfields of central Otago. I have
previously had the good fortune to visit Arrowtown in central Otago, where
museum exhibits portray the hard and rugged lifestyle endured by those early
settlers.

You can see some of those early shelters when you visit travel to that part
of New Zealand.

But the hardship of those settlers was not just expressed in the harsh
climate, or the backbreaking work.

The hardship was expressed through the systematic discrimination against the
Chinese community through a harsh and selective immigration policy.

The poll tax, or entry tax, satisfied the government's desire to restrict
Chinese immigrants to New Zealand.

That legislation was legal in those days. That tax was lawful and considered
appropriate at that time. Thankfully such policies are totally inappropriate by
today's standards.

People such as Harvey Wu, Esther Fung, David Wong and Professor Kwan Goh,
raised the issue. As I've travelled around the country I've talked to a lot of
people over the last 18 months.

The issue is not so much about dates and times.

The issue is the injustice and deprivation imposed on those early Chinese
settlers. It is about the separation of families, it is about the poverty of
indentured settlers who were forced to work for years to earn enough money to
pay off their tax let alone earn a living.

I would ask that we all think about those early Chinese settlers and the
contribution that they made to our nation's development. Tonight's apology is to
those early Chinese settlers who paid the poll tax.

Unfortunately the issue has been allowed to fester for too long. The previous
government knew about this issue, and after much reflection, relegated it to the
"too-hard" basket.

We are not going to repeat that mistake.

I am proud to be part of a government that has taken this important step
towards reconciliation between the Chinese community and the Crown.

I believe remorse improves the nation's spirit and health.

How appropriate it is that we can use Chinese New Year as the occasion to
make this important announcement.

Those early Chinese settlers displayed a hard work ethic. Their descendant
families and our more recent Chinese immigrants continue to display that work
ethic.

Chinese New Zealanders have long had a well-earned reputation as being
industrious, creative, and entrepreneurial, and with a respect for traditional
values.

Long may it continue!

Chinese New Year - the year of the Horse - provides an opportunity for us all
to work together and to begin a new session of partnership and renewal.

The spirit of the New Year is a sincere wish that you can all enjoy
happiness, good health and success throughout the year.

Ladies and gentlemen thank you very much.