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Peter Williams: New Zealand’s changing face

Peter Williams 01/06/2021

OPINION: A big report in the NZ Herald today is  headlined by “Asians set to make up a quarter of New Zealand’s population by 2043.” That’s 22 years from now. Do you remember back to a time in New Zealand 22 years ago, in 1999? How different was it to what we have now? 

The answer is, when you think about it, very different. No smartphones, no high-speed internet, no earthquakes, no mass shootings, no mass immigration and a population of around 3.8 million. But we adapted, didn't we? Because that’s what the human race does. We adapt and we cope. 

That’s not to say we adapted well. Our infrastructure is way way behind. And government policies are making race relations very uncomfortable, especially as the government continues to be extremely furtive about its plans for this He Puapua report. 

So at the moment, the ethnic mix in New Zealand is European or Pakeha about 70 percent with Maori and Asian around 15 or 16 percent each, Pacific peoples at 8 percent and others about 2 and half percent. All of which adds up to more than a hundred. This indicates that there is already considerable inter-ethnic marriage in this country and there will be plenty more in the future. 

But if in 20 years from now, those identifying as Maori are only the third largest ethnic group, yet there are governance arrangements out of proportion to their population, how will that stack up for the rest of us? Is it time we stopped playing race politics and racial identities in this country and made a real effort, and I mean a real effort - starting in our primary schools, to make everyone in this country colour blind? 

The headline number this morning though does mask an important distinction though. That is the grouping of Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Malaysian and plenty of other ethnicities all under one major grouping, which I think is both unkind and disrespectful. But it is a statistical exercise, not sociology. However, with the country set to become more and more cosmopolitan in the next two decades, how should we approach our race relations? Should we insist that government policy does as much as possible to not bother with ethnic identity? Should the push be on to make us a homogenous people known as New Zealanders, or Kiwis?

I reckon it’s happening more and more anyway. I remember watching a group of kids playing with a rugby ball at a park on Keith Hay Park in Auckland as I walked past about 10 or 12 years ago. They were young teenagers, around 13 or 14. I knew a few of them from the Akarana Golf Club. They were having fun. Their parents were Korean, Pakistani, Chinese, Maori, Samoan and Pakeha. I remember the incident well because it spoke to me then of the New Zealand of the future. Those guys are all in their 20s now. From what I hear they’re doing well in life. Their race and their ethnicity wasn’t an issue when they were throwing a rugby ball around or playing golf together a decade ago. I hope it’s not now. 

But how do we arrive at the stage where we are first and foremost New Zealanders, and not have to identify as being from another ethnic background? If a quarter of the population will be broadly categorised as Asian by 2043, and you’re not Asian, will you be happy and content with that? If you’re Pakeha or European, call it what you want, and you see your proportion of the population continuing to decline, how do you feel about that? It looks like Pakeha will drop from 74 percent to 64 percent of the population in 30 years between 2013 and 2043. Will we be able to adapt?

It’s a really important issue in New Zealand. And to quote Judith Collins, “division and separatism is not going to help.”

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