Diversity - Many People, Many Cultures

  • Max Bradford

Speech to the New Zealand National Party
Central North Island Division

I want to challenge you today.

The Prime Minister, in his speech, has asked the question ``Who are We?''.

That is an excellent question, particularly as the new electoral environment of MMP is sharply focussing the question on the National Party as well : what is our ``brand image?''

But it is not my primary task today to discuss our brand image, although what I am going to talk about, and the Forum following my speech, will help determine what it could be.

What I want to discuss is our diversity as a people, and the implications of increasing ethnic diversity for the future.

I suspect few people realise how different New Zealand is now, than it was only a couple of generations ago.

Out of this, our past, our future and our Party political imperatives are shaped.

The reality is New Zealand's demographic profile will do more to shape the National Party and its policies in the future, than all the remits and good ideas put together by us as individuals.

Age distribution, and the ethnic mix of the population, are key elements, which are influenced by what we are now and the country's immigration policies.

Until very recently, the National Party cannot claim to have been a vigorous champion of the aspirations of New Zealand's non-European ethnic groups.

We have largely been a European based, and European focussed, political party.

This is in spite of the fact we have had a Maori Vice-President of the Party for many years.

We began to focus on the Pacific Island community only in the late 1980s.

Only last year did we consciously invite the Chinese community into our heart.

That action was impelled more by a liberal reaction to aspects of New Zealand First's election campaign - thankfully now behind us - than the fact the Chinese have been an important and integral part of New Zealand for well over 100 years.

The Party's relationship with the Maori, Pacific Island and Chinese communities has blossomed greatly with the election of Georgina Te Heu Heu, Arthur Anae, and Pansy Wong last year.

For the most part though, our embrace of non-European ethnic groups has been hesitant, uncertain, and reactive.

We have often been discouraged by the lack of political success of our efforts to reach out to such groups.

For example, the National Party has never been able to win more than a single figure share of the Maori vote, in spite of our constitution and a huge commitment over the last 6 years to settling grievances and meeting the aspirations of Maori.

Inevitably, this raises the question why we should continue down this line, if there is little reward in terms of votes.

But there is one overarching reason why we must not be discouraged from actively embracing all ethnic groups, even if there might be little electoral incentive in the short term.

The simple reason is:

The National Party will not remain a mainstream force in New Zealand politics if we do not embrace the needs and aspirations of all New Zealanders, at a time when the population is becoming more diverse ethnically and culturally.

What of our history?

New Zealand is a country formed by immigration.

It never has been a ``cradle of civilisation'' in the same way that China, Africa or Central Europe have been, with a history stretching back many thousands of years before New Zealand was settled.

So far as we know, Maori established themselves as tangata whenua after epic voyages of discovery and resettlement 600-1200 years ago.

At the time of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, Maori numbered 100,000 and non-Maori 1,000.

Given these numbers, it could hardly be said that Maori were suborned by force, or the threat of force, to sign up to the Treaty. They went into the relationship with the new European settler stock at the time in good faith and with goodwill.

Yet 150 years on, we are litigating matters at the heart of the Treaty, which would have been well behind us by now in a more perfect world.

There is understandable impatience amongst many people, and within the Party, at the process of settling Treaty grievances, started in earnest by the National Government 6 years ago.

The process of carrying right-minded New Zealanders is made all the more difficult by some of the recent revelations in the media.

We must resist the urge to condemn all Maori for the poor judgement of a few.

But while we should bite our tongues in the meantime, Maori leaders have a role to play in ensuring public opinion does not turn against the process of settling their many justifiable grievances.

Just as the grievances of the last 150 years are matters we cannot sweep under the carpet, neither are today's images.

Unfortunately most people see the images of today, more clearly than the grievances of the past.

As a Party, we cannot ignore the Third of our Constitutional Principles :

``We stand for .... the Treaty of Waitangi as the founding document of New Zealand, respect for the individual worth of all New Zealanders regardless of race or gender, and a commitment to a cohesive society tolerant of historical, cultural and individual diversity.''

As the Prime Minister said in his speech today:

``The Treaty belongs to Maori and non-Maori alike. Both must honour it, for it defines the rights we share.''

The difficulty for all of us is how to make such high ideals a reality in a day-to-day sense.

I invite you to consider whether there is any other way of meeting our own principles than remaining committed to the path we are on. Perhaps that is a question we could dwell on in the Forum.

Nevertheless, it would be a tragedy if we allow ourselves to become bogged down in the process of dealing with Treaty grievances alone.

The Party must, in my view, begin to look ahead at the implications of increasing ethnic diversity, and begin to shape the Party's thinking and responses to the sea change that will occur over the next few years.

Look at what has happened in 16 years, since 1981.

Maori has risen from just over 12 percent of the population - 385,000 people - to 14.5 percent - 523,000.

Pacific Islanders have increased from virtually nothing immediately after the Second World War, to 2.7 percent of the population in 1981, to over 5 percent now - 180,315 people or the equivalent of a city the size of Hamilton.

The Chinese community has similarly mushroomed. In 1981, only 0.3 percent of the population was Chinese, but in the 1996 census this proportion had risen to 2.3 percent - 82,300 people or about the size of Palmerston North and twice the size of New Plymouth.

Interestingly, the Chinese community is now about the same proportion of the population as it was in the 1870's, when Maori was about the same proportion as it is now as well.

At the same time as these communities are growing (as are others), the European population is losing its share of the population.

When the National Party was formed in 1936, 95 percent of the population was European.

Even after waves of British, German, Dutch, and other European migration in the 1950s and 1960s, the European share of the population is estimated to have fallen to under 80 percent.

These are very significant shifts in a short period, and to a large extent have gone unnoticed by most political parties.

Ironically, MMP may have unlocked our awareness and perhaps our understanding of wider ethnic changes in the population, and what influences they will have on policy and our political management.

From a policy point of view, there are many implications.

There is the simple issue of how to deal with more people.

We tend to concentrate on the economic problems of coping with more people in the education, health and retirement systems, and on how to provide the transport, energy, and other infrastructures to cope with a disparate population spread unevenly throughout New Zealand.

At the same time, our local communities are changing rapidly, as the diversity of their populations change. Not all communities are changing at the same rate either, which carries its own problems.

There is simply not the same ethnic or cultural diversity in the communities of the South Island, as there is in the northern North Island. Their problems and opportunities are different than those of, for example, Auckland's.

That makes it more complex for central government to find homogeneous policy solutions to cover the country.

There is also the challenge of language.

385,000 people speak languages other than English and Maori, about 10 percent of the population.

These languages include (in order of incidence), but are not limited to :

Samoan, French, Cantonese, German, Dutch, New Zealand Sign Language(for the deaf), Tongan, Japanese, Mandarin, Hindi, Korean, Spanish, Gujarati, Cook Is Maori, Italian, Niuean, Tagalog, Min, Serbo-Croat, Malay, and Afrikaans.

There is huge benefit from these many languages, apart from the fact they help liven up New Zealand.

The access to overseas markets close to us is helped immeasurably by the family and business linkages the diverse ethnic communities and their languages provide.

How does this great array of new languages in the country affect policy?

Perhaps the most graphic example is the secondary school in Auckland of 1,300 students, where 53 languages are spoken, and English is the second language for most young people at the school.

Education policy is having to reflect the reality of diversity in language as well as the diversity of ethnic and cultural background reflected in the students.

The wider question for us to consider is an age old one.

Do we effectively enforce an assimilation policy on this diversity, as we tried to do with Maori many years ago, or do we accommodate the diversity into our education and other social policies?

Assimilation didn't work for Maori.

Just in time, there was a renaissance of the Maori language in part because successive governments have introduced Te Reo policies where Maori is to be used as an official language alongside English.

The issue is - do we assimilate or accommodate?

I don't know the answer to this, but I do know it is an important issue for many ethnic communities who now count New Zealand as their home.

Much of what we have done in recent years has focussed on Maori, and properly so given our Treaty responsibilities, and the prospect that continuing down the path set throughout much of this century could have destroyed not just the Maori language, but also the Maori culture as well to the detriment of us all.

While there is little chance of other languages or cultures in New Zealand being destroyed in the same way as assimilation could have for Maori, I believe we should nuture the diversity, rather than submerge them with policies that are, more by accident than design, assimilative.

The excitement of discovery and choice that goes with diversity on our doorstep is well worth nurturing as consciously as we can.

Who would deny the benefits to us all from the diversity of cuisine in New Zealand now?

Who wants to return to the diet of stodge which used to grace our tables barely 25 years ago?

And I don't only mean diet.

Fellow delegates, the broad issue of how we broaden our view and our Party policies to embrace the cultural and ethnic diversity that is now a significant part of the New Zealand character, is something I believe we should put significant effort into.

I take you back to the implications for the National Party I mentioned earlier:

The National Party will not remain a mainstream force in New Zealand politics if we do not embrace the needs and aspirations of all New Zealanders, at a time when the population is becoming more diverse ethnically and culturally. This means we must look beyond the focus of today's problems.

We must look at creative ways of embracing a significant, and increasing, proportion of New Zealanders into the mainstream of our policies and our activities.

We must be true to our constitutional Principles.

We can and must establish as part of our brand, the National Party brand,

``a commitment to a cohesive society tolerant of historical, cultural and individual diversity''