Chinese New Year 2023 speech

Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities

Chinese New Year opening speech

Tēnā koutou katoa

Da Jia How  

Xīn Nián Kuài Lè  

Dye Gar Houw

Saan nin fai lok

It is my pleasure today to welcome all of you to the 2023 Chinese New Year celebration here at the NZ parliament, your parliament.

It’s great to have everyone here in person, after a few years of disruption due to COVID-19.

Extend a special welcome to members of our Chinese communities, many whom have travelled from different parts of the country to be here.

I would like to welcome and acknowledge: Dr Wang Xiaolong, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China; Members of the Diplomatic Corp; My fellow Ministerial & Parliamentary colleagues Mervin Singham, Chief Executive, Ministry for Ethnic Communities; Jenny Too, President, New Zealand Chinese Association; Paul Chin, Chairman, Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust; and the many esteemed Chinese community leaders from across the motu.

I would also like to thank our MC’s for this evening, Naisi Chen MP and Melissa Wong; and the many wonderful performers here this evening.

Hope you’ve all had a great Chinese New Year. It is such a special time.

I grew up in Singapore, and therefore with many friends who celebrated CNY and invited me into their homes to celebrate with them. It was such a great way to start off each year – with the pomp and festivity of new clothes, lots of great food, red packets, lanterns and other decorations, lion & dragon dances down the streets and the sound of the drums.

I hope you’ve all had the opportunity to enjoy this time with your loved ones as well.

It’s great to be able to celebrate and usher in the Year of the Rabbit here in Parliament. This week marks the first sitting week of the NZ Parliament, and this is a great way to start off the political year.

The 2018 census showed that our New Zealand - Chinese population had continued to grow to nearly 250,000, about five percent of our total population.

I can only imagine that in this year’s census, we will continue to see that number grow. I know the Ministry for Ethnic Communities and Statistics New Zealand have been working together to promote participation by our ethnic communities in Census 2023.

The census materials are available in the most languages and formats ever, and the agencies are working directly with community groups around the country so they can share information directly to their members.

I encourage you all to participate on 7 March.

This is also a time to acknowledge with gratitude the significant contributions our NZ Chinese communities have made – and continue to make to the economic, social and cultural progress of Aotearoa New Zealand.

The Ministry for Ethnic Communities engages with a range of community groups, and importantly with our Chinese communities.  

I had the opportunity to talk to some of the Auckland and Christchurch’s Chinese community leaders last year.  It was a chance for me to hear directly from the communities in terms of what issues and concerns are top of mind for them, their aspirations and to acknowledge their work in and across various communities.

We also discussed how communities could work closely with the government on various issues to ensure needs are met and services are delivered in a way that is accessible.

I will continue to do this so that I can ensure that I share these views as appropriate when we have relevant discussions at Cabinet and so that the Ministry can do the same as they continue to be the Government’s chief advisor on ethnic communities, ethnic diversity and the inclusion of ethnic communities in wider society.

Before I end, I want to pass on a message from Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, who couldn’t be here this evening as he is up in Auckland as we respond to the severe weather event taking place:

The Lunar New Year is an important celebration for many of our communities here in Aotearoa New Zealand and there are events being held throughout the country to recognise this important cultural occasion.

Today is one of such events and I would have liked to have been here in person to celebrate the Lunar New Year with you all here at Parliament.

Instead, I would like to take the opportunity to wish you all a Happy New Year of the Rabbit. I understand that people born in this year are believed to be warm, kind, friendly and welcoming.

I think that we can all agree that these are all qualities that are important to us all in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Now, I would like to end where I began. With a word of thanks.

Thank you all for being here today. You are all leaders across various communities. The past few years have been challenging and you have all done a tremendous amount of work – personally and through the organisations you lead - to support others. I want to acknowledge that and thank you for it.

I’m told the Year of the Rabbit is said to bring peace, tranquillity and hope. Particularly after that last few years, we can all do with a bit of that!

May you and your families have a healthy, peaceful and prosperous year.

Xie xie.

Nō reira.

2002 Poll Tax apology translation speech

It has been 21 years since then-Prime Minister, Rt Hon Helen Clark, hosted the first ever Chinese New Year celebration at Parliament in 2002. 

That inaugural event was all the more historic because of a Formal Apology issued to Chinese New Zealanders by  Prime Minister Clark at that time.

The Apology, in English and translated to Mandarin, was made to Chinese communities who were made to pay a ‘poll tax’ to migrate to Aotearoa New Zealand.

Tonight, that same 2002 apology is now formally delivered in Cantonese to value and honour those who suffered the indignity of the poll tax, in their language.

As context, in 1881, New Zealand Parliament had passed the Chinese Immigrants Act. This was a racist piece of legislation designed to tax, and restrict migration from China.

The initial tax was 10 pounds per person - equivalent to roughly two thousand dollars today.

There were also restrictions imposed on the number of Chinese migrants allowed to land from each ship arriving in New Zealand. Only one Chinese passenger was allowed for every 10 tonnes of cargo.

Then in 1896, the tax was increased and the passenger restrictions became even more stringent.  

The poll tax was finally abolished in 1944 by the first Labour government.

The apology of 2002 was extended to the descendants of those impacted by this discriminatory law and recognised the injustice of the poll tax.

Prime Minister Clark noted in her speech that the legislation was created at "a time when New Zealand was fearful of cultural diversity and distinctly unwelcoming to migrants of Chinese descent in particular."

This was a time when anti-chinese groups emerged in vocal opposition to Chinese migration.

It is yet another reminder to us all of the importance of stamping out hate and strengthening understanding and of social cohesion.

The 2002 Apology expressed the Government’s sorrow and regret that such practices were once considered lawful and appropriate.

In 2002, Prime Minister Clark delivered the Apology in English, and it was interpreted into Mandarin by the translator Dr Henry Liu. I am pleased that Dr Liu is here again today.

While I understand that the 2002 formal apology delivered in English & Mandarin was welcomed by our NZ Chinese communities at the time, I know that many of the early settlers who were subjected to the poll tax - and their descendants, spoke Cantonese.

A large majority of them had travelled to New Zealand from Southern regions of China. I understand that some of the Chinese New Zealanders who were in the room for the original apology – were unable to fully understand either the English or the Mandarin version.

I also know how important language is as a connector to one’s heritage, history & identity.

Many from our Cantonese-speaking communities have advocated for the apology to be delivered in Cantonese.

Today, we do just that. The 2002 apology will be formally delivered in Cantonese to value and honour those who suffered the indignity of the poll tax and their language.

In 2002, Prime Minister Clark noted that the apology from the Government would mark the beginning of a process of reconciliation.

And as we re-issue that apology today, I want to touch on the process of reconciliation and its progress to date.

Shortly after the Apology, and after consultation with the Chinese community led by the then Office of Ethnic Communities, the Government established the Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust with the aim of strengthening the identity of Chinese New Zealanders and their communities.

Over the past 19 years the Trust has supported numerous projects including exhibitions, research, publications and, appropriately for this occasion, an Augmented Reality game for Chinese New Year based on the Chinese legend of Nian.

In January of this year, our Government supported the launch of the Chinese Local Histories Classroom Lessons at the Lawrence Chinese Camp, which was the first and largest Chinese gold-mining settlement in Otago.

I am proud that our Government has worked to introduce New Zealand History in schools, and this is an important part of our collective history.

The lessons start with the gold miners’ story and why they came here, the culture they brought with them, their interactions with European New Zealanders, discrimination through the Poll Tax, and on into the occupations and lives of Chinese after the gold rush.

It is my hope that these lessons honour the mana of those who travelled here and the contributions they made. But also tell the stories of those who experienced discrimination.

Can I also acknowledge those in the room here today, and beyond, including the New Zealand Chinese Association who advocated strongly over the years for both the histories in schools to include the history of Chinese migration but also the importance of delivering this apology in Cantonese. Thank you.

And of course, we are here today, issuing the apology in Cantonese. This is another important step.

As the Minister for Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities I am pleased to be able to invite Dr Henry Liu to the stage to deliver a Cantonese interpretation of the Government’s 2002 Apology – twenty one years after he delivered this same apology in Mandarin.

Thank you, Dr Liu, for agreeing to again support such a meaningful moment in the relationship between Aotearoa New Zealand and its Chinese communities – the floor is yours.


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