A Matter of Tokenism?

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TIME TO STOP PAYING UP LIP SERVICE

 

Today, there is a strong and growing sentiment that has emerged amongst over seas born New Zealanders who believe that this nation needs to begin change or expand the dialogue over and beyond the Māori-Pākehā dynamic. It is one that calls for a discontinuance of paying up any more lip service and instead give life and real substance to such high-sounding ideals and terms as ‘multi-culturalism’, ‘diversity’, ‘equal opportunity’ and ‘equality’ pandered about by politicians.

 

These are empty words. They are for the moment nothing more than ‘catch words’. All that has really been done by successive governments since the 1990s is to employ them for convenience’s sake to project an outward image of New Zealand geared towards attracting new business (a lot of which is ‘hot money’ through the financial system), tourists and skilled migrants from other countries to prop up its still largely monochromatic economy. It splashes false colours over an underlying outline etched on a canvas that reveals what the picture really looks like.

 

It is a rigid mindset which – since the founding of this nation in February 1840 through the Treaty of Waitangi, has not produced in nearly 174-years any meaningful results for much of the Māori themselves and because it is so such the manner by which they have been treated all this time has has now also spilled over to other ethnic communities whose representative members are those born overseas but have made New Zealand their home.

 

Consider this fact. As of this writing, New Zealand has more ethnicities than there are countries in the world. In total, 213-ethnic groups were identified in the cen sus, whereas there are only 196-countries recognised by Statistics New Zealand.

 

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In terms of their numbers, the non-Māori overseas born group now constitute 25% of the total population of New Zealand. In Auckland alone, the percentage is trending towards breaching the 40% level. What’s more, both these statistical numbers are over and above the group of people who count themselves as ori ginating from various Pacific Islands.

 

After the 2013 census in New Zealand was taken, it was revealed that 14.90% of the population of New Zealand were Māori, 11.80% of the population were Asians (deriving from various nations in Asia and Southeast Asia), 7.40% were Pacific Islanders (including from the Cook Islands, Niue, and Tokelau, all of which are dependent states of New Zealand in the Pacific), and 1.20% were individuals of Middle-Eastern, Latin American, and African descent. Apparently, also over a third (35.3%) of the entire population of New Zealand during the census-taking were non-Caucasian-Europeans.

 

As of this writing, New Zealand has more ethnicities than there are countries in the world. In total, 213-ethnic groups were identified in the census, whereas there are only 196-countries recognised by Statistics New Zealand.

 

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BECAUSE THE DIALOGUE HAS GONE STALE

 

During the late 1960s and 1970s the Treaty of Waitangi became the focus of a strong Māori protest movement which rallied around calls for the government to `honour the treaty’ and to `redress treaty grievances’.

 

While the aspirations of the Māori all by all means noble and just, the dialogue has been perpetuated by an ‘honour the Tiriti o Waitangi’ mindset. Yes, it raises the historical and significant long-standing grievances of Māori as a whole but it puts them atop a pedestal called the ‘Treaty Settlements’. It is a judicial process administered through Waitangi Tribunal hearings under an office which reports and provides advice on policy and negotiations matters to the Minister of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations. That office in turn reports as a unit under the Depart ment of Justice. It is such a long-drawn out process that it has opened itself up and attracted criticisms from across the political spectrum since it began in 1988.

 

Even to this day, Māori communities across the land still vocally express their frustration about continuing violations of the Treaty and subsequent legislation by consecutive governments and their officials all which hark back to inequitable laws, regulations and unsympathetic decisions by a Māori Land Court that was established in 1865 which alienated Māori land from its Māori owners.

 

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From the Pākehā point-of-view at that time, the Treaty gave Britain sovereignty over New Zealand, and that meant giving its appointed Governors the right to govern the country as the Crown saw fit. The Māori believed, on the other hand, that they ceded to the Crown a right of governance in return for protection, with out giving up their authority to manage their own affairs. The wide divergence of views should tell us something about how this country probably really still works underneath the patina of time snowed under by layer upon layer of waste ful bureaucracies and thoroughly mindless spending sprees of tax proceeds and the gearing of debt.

 

Why do we say that? Well, New Zealand works under a structure of democracy where three other basic words besides ‘equality’ – namely, ‘government’, ‘elec tions’ and ‘politics’, pretty much encompass the grounds upon which the form and fate of the country are shaped – in Parliament. That being what it is, how ever, the question is how representative is it, or better yet, how representative should it be?

 

Let’s Find Out!

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New Zealand’s Parliament usually consists of 120-members of parliament (MPs), some times more due to overhang seats. 70-MPs are elected directly in electorate seats and the remainder are filled by list MPs based on each party’s share of the party vote. It is unicameral by structure. To date, there have been 50 Parliaments, with the last six formed using the Mixed Member Proportional formula. The current Parliament has been led by the National Party under Prime Minister John Key and his government (2nd term, beginning 2011) was formed in coalition with the much smaller Māori, ACT and United Future parties underscored with supply and confidence agreements. Today, because of the overhang effect, there are 121 MPs to speak of.

 

List of Non-European MPs in Parliament

Name of MP Party Affiliation Type of MP Ethnicity
Rajen Prasad Labour Party List MP Fijian
Kris Faafoi Labour Party MP-Mana Tokelauan
Raymond Huo Labour Party List MP Chinese
Sua William Sio Labour Party MP-Mangere Samoan
Russell Norman Green Party List MP Australian
Julie Ann Genter Green Party List MP American
Asenati Taylor NZ First Party List MP Samoan
Kalwaljit Singh Bakshi National Party List MP Indian
Peseta Sam Lotu-liga National Party MP-Maungakiekie Samoan
Alfred Ngaro National Party List MP Cook Island
Melissa Lee National Party List MP Korean
Jian Yang National Party List MP Chinese

 

The hyperlinked image panel along with the table immediately following it above is provided as a starting point that makes it easier for readers to be more informed as whether or not our Parliament today is representative enough. Excluding the 18 MPs belonging to the Māori ethnic group (or 14.9% of total seats, which is an equivalent percentage for their 2013 population size of 598,605 being also 14.9% of total popu lation)), there are only 12 other MPs (or 9.9% of total seats) who represent all the other 213 ethnicities existing in New Zealand today. Of these, only 3 of them (or 2.4% of total seats) are electorate MPs all of whom are identified with just 2 of 5 Pacific ethnic groups whose combined population is 295,941 people (or 7.4% of total popu lation).

 

As such, we can say they are over-represented in Parliament today but that can be countered by saying that their representatives are also electorate MPs. What’s more glaring is that the growing Asian ethnic group is under-represented with only 3 MPs (or 2.4% of total seats while the Asian community already consists of 11.8% of the total population). Obviously, the numbers don’t stack up considering that 2013 Cen sus shows that more than 471,748 people have identified themselves with a least one Asian ethnicity, compared with just under 240,000 in 2001.

 

Electorate MPs refer to MPs elected directly by an electoral district (constituency) which is a distinct territorial subdivision for holding a separate election for one or more seats in a legislative body. Generally, only voters who reside within the geogra phical bounds of an electoral district (constituents) are permitted to vote in an election held there. 

 

List MPs, on the other hand, are Members of Parliament (MP) who are elected from a party list rather than from a geographical constituency. Their presence in Parliament is owed to the number of votes that their party won, not to votes received by the MP personally. This occurs only in countries which have an electoral system based on party-list proportional representation like in New Zealand.

 

It is sometimes complained that because List MPs do not have a geographic electorate, they are not properly accountable to anyone.

 

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LEVEL OF EXPECTATIONS ARE HIGH

 

While it may be somewhat disturbing to some, don’t be alarmed by what is being written here just yet until you see the next table below. The continuing narrative of the Treaty Settlements redress valid grievances which envelope the whole Māori-Pākehā argument and so need not be changed one jot as it involves ad dressing a universal principle called ‘justice’. But, at the pace it has been pro gressing toward closure, it will still be many years before anything is resolved with finality and satisfaction. Yet that juncture, only involves the Māori Commu nity. 

 

The present Government’s policy since the 1990s has been to address real griev ances by reaching full and final settlements with genuine claimants in a timely fashion. But one briefing to the previous government optimistically predicted all settlements could be completed by the year 2060. Current officials say, how ever, that has changed and that completion of all settlements is now an achiev able goal. According to them, it can happen, with the goodwill of all parties, in the next few years.

 

Meanwhile, the rest of the country is expected to sit back and press-down the ‘pause’ button until things all get sorted out with the powers that be now and the near future. But time and circumstances change. The reality of things also change as it marches head long into the future at an even more rapid pace. Meantime, there are always major social, economic and political issues brewing that need to be addressed all along the way. So, when does it start?

 

Procrastination is not acceptable anymore because whether one realises it or not the dialogue is moving beyond a bi-cultural construct to a multi-cultural one. Its framework needs to be widened to include others because the level of expec tations, and therefore aspirations, are much higher now for those who not part of it.

 

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When you consider some of the population projections that Statistics New Zealand have made taking into account factors that include for fertility, mortality, migration and inter-ethnic mobility, we discover that the size of the largest ethnic communities – the Maori and Pacific Islanders, will be eclipsed by the Asian community in terms of both numbers and percentage terms relative to the total projected population of New Zealand by 2026.

 

A leading academic – Massey University pro vice-chancellor Professor Paul Spoonley says that Maori and Pacific Islanders as individual ethnic communities will be out numbered by Asians as the second-biggest ethnic group in New Zealand within the next decade. But, irrespective of population ratios, iwi have a sense of rights and obli gations enshrined in the Treaty and if the Maori were outnumbered by new migrants they could cleave more doggedly to the Treaty of Waitangi as a charter for Maori position in society. So, what does this tell us about what needs to be done today to avoid factionalisms in the future?

 

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THE REALITY OF REALITIES

 

Australia, Britain and the United States have been such magnets for migrants that all now are taking steps to curb the flow. Yet history shows Britain and the United States prospered most when their attitude was more liberal. This could be New Zealand’s opportunity.

 

New Zealanders value their limited numbers for the wide open spaces it leaves on their landscape. But 4.24-million is a very sparse population for a country of this size. If we were to open the door to more immigration, the wide open spaces would still remain.

 

But it is not simply a case of opening the door. Migrants need to see business opportunities and jobs here. Faster population growth is needed to attract them, slow growth runs the risk that steadily fewer will come. Of those that do not stay, the larger markets and incomes of Australia (and Canada) still beckon, despite the social benefits denied New Zealand citizens who have lived and worked there since 2001.

 

The number of Asian residents has doubled since 1981, comprising 1 in 8 of the population now. Seven years ago the ratio was 1 in 11. Nearly 2/3rd’s of the country’s Asian population lives in the Auckland region, where they now num ber nearly a quarter of the residents. The City of Sail’s relaxed reception for an ethnic change of this magnitude is a credit to all its other residents, reflecting an awareness, perhaps, that this country would be a poorer place if its door was not open to diversity.

 

Were it not for immigration, particularly from Asia, the population of New Zea land would barely be growing. Asians comprise the largest number of foreign-born residents in the latest 2013 Census, exceeding those born in Britain or the Pacific Islands.

 

This is just one reality of the realities today. At some point in time soon the two warring camps of Labour and National should be working together for the better of the whole country, not just parts of it. But is seems, the two old parties are still working to protect their interests and their dominant position in New Zealand politics.

 

These political parties need to give New Zealand’s diverse people a much more meaningful matrix of policies they want, or eventually face the consequences. If otherwise, it will all still be a matter of tokenism fraught with reactionary pressures for which these two dominant political parties will no longer be able to manage as they seem to have done so in the past.

 

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THEN COMES THE OTHER REALITY

 

This country rudely discovered in 1973 that the UK (then taking 50% of our exports), began the slow process of deliberately grinding New Zealand out of the European Union market through the so-called “degressivity” provisions of Proto col-18. Put simply, we were legally required to decrease our key exports to Eu rope year by year.

 

It got much worse. As New Zealand tried to develop alternative markets in the 1970s and 1980s, the European Economic Community pummeled us with huge export subsidies. The world trading system was no use to us since agriculture was effectively outside the framework of international economic law.

 

Everywhere New Zealand turned we were blocked and we paid a heavy price for excessive dependency on one market. In simple terms, we had no Plan B in 1973.

 

Those dark days are now behind us. We have, over the past 40-years, construc ted an alternative and more diverse set of options for New Zealand.

 

Since then, we have negotiated a gold standard FTA (or, Free Trade Agreement) with Australia – still our largest market for agricultural, service and merchandise exports combined; a variety of individual FTAs with Southeast Asian countries plus the extraordinary achievement of a comprehensive FTA with all 10 ASEAN countries.

 

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Compared with Australians, New Zealanders express greater feelings of warmth toward people from Asian countries and recognise benefits of maintaining ties with Asia primarily in economic terms that will have significant positive impacts on New Zealand in the next 10- to 20-years.

 

Even so, New Zealanders are more cautious about the bene fits of Asian immigration to New Zealand even if they ack nowledge that it is quite important that New Zealand devel op social, cultural and economic ties with Asia.

 

Non-Asian New Zealanders are more likely than Asian New Zealanders to say that negative/racist views held by Non-Asian New Zealanders towards Asian New Zealanders is the biggest barrier to cross-cultural understanding. They wel come their investments and contributions but still hold a high degree of trepidation when dealing with their own grow ing Asian migrant communities.

 

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The country also now enjoys the world’s first comprehensive FTA with Hong Kong and Taiwan; comprehensive FTAs with Brunei, Singapore and Chile in what is called P4 (Pacific Four), which is, the essential building block to the mother of all mega deals, the TPP, or Trans-Pacific Partnership.

 

More recently, New Zealand’s exports to China have increased exponentially since signing an FTA to a bit over 30%. Last year that growth rate accelerated to 45% and our exports to China are now some $10-billion. In addition, we are at an advanced stage of negotiations with Korea and we hope now to get an FTA with the Gulf States in place.

 

As a result of all the set pieces now in place, New Zealand now has enormous momentum and has every reason to believe it can sustain steady economic growth and stability into the future because it has employed a strategic policy of developing an ever wider range of political and economic platforms to spread our risk.

 

But here’s the catch. New Zealand’s income inequality gap has also widened and that clearly tells us something. That ‘something’ is this: that all token ethnic minorities who have been or are being adversely affected by income and oppor tunity disparities should start thinking that there isn’t a ‘fair go’ anymore and that they should not expect government to act on their behalf unless their own representatives are sitting in Parliament pressing the case for them following this September’s election to give more voice and more action to reduce those gaps.

 

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In both the final (English and Māori) signed versions of the Treaty of Waitangi (Tiriti o Waitangi), the wordings clearly state a guaranty of equal rights to “the chiefs and tribes and all the people of New Zealand” as subjects of the Crown. Under that frame work alone, New Zealand today should be a country where all its people have the same rights; obey the same laws; vote on the same roll; and, help those who are in need because of their need, not because of their race. If that should be the case, then why have all elected governments since the signing of the Treaty continue to operate under a policy of state-sponsored separatism when the so-called founding document of this nation requires otherwise? Perhaps that fault lies with voters themselves who after all these years still feel too wedded to, say, the National Party’s economic policy, or the Labour Party’s social policies, to sacrifice their normal voting habits for making right a single fundamental issue.

 

A MATTER OF TOKENISM?

 

Tokenism is, after all, a practice employed by major political parties by repeated ly making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especial ly by recruiting a small number of people from under-represented groups in order to give the appearance of ethnic or racial equality within a governing body, but not much attention is given to what they may have to say. They are ornaments that are nice to have around and are treated facetiously.

 

Have you ever watched the proceedings broadcast in the Parliament TV Channel when an ethnic migrant Electoral MP representative is finally given a slot to make a speech and raise serious issues but only to address an empty chamber where the major political party MPs are all practically absent? If you have, doesn’t it leave you with an impression of how flippant the whole charade is at the highest levels of governance?

 

This frivolousness is also further compounded by another behaviour lacking serious intent in that ethnic migrant Electorate MPs are viewed as being ineffec tive or even invisible. It highlights a problem with race relations in this country.

 

Whilst some strides have been made to improve access and representation for Māori (and to some extent, Pacific Islanders), sadly enough the same cannot be said to be true about other ethnic migrant communities, especially the Asian communities. A key reason that drives this inequitable state of affairs is an over emphasis on bi-culturalism in this country, to the exclusion of anyone else that does not fit into the ‘Pākehā’ or ‘Māori’ dialogue.

 

Obviously, the deck of cards are stacked against most of the other remaining 211 ethnic migrant groups (except perhaps the Samoan-Kiwis) because even if they somehow manage to produce Electorate MP candidates to represent their own communities, then it means that any of the 71 distinct territorial subdivisions mentioned where these candidates have chosen to contest an election necessar ily requires that a large block of voters of their own ethnic migrant constituents must reside within the geographical bounds of those particular electoral districts to vote in their candidate/s into Parliament.

 

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LARGE CLUSTER OF SYMPATHETIC VOTERS

 

So let us just say for example, that if the Chinese-Kiwis or Indian-Kiwis – the two largest components of the Asian communities in New Zealand, each manage to produce one Electorate MP candidate to stand in separate electoral districts to avoid diluting the vote, each would still have to choose a district where their respective ethnic communities are the dominant group in terms of population size and also in terms of actual eligible voters who will support them to achieve a win.

 

In other words, you need to have a significantly large cluster of sympathetic voters to cast ballots as a solid voting bloc on Election Day.

 

Perhaps this explains why the Samoan-Kiwis – who are a smaller sub-group be longing to the Pacific Islands community in terms of numbers compared to their Chinese (171,411) and Indian (155,178) counterparts, were able to garner Elec torate MPs (for Mangere and Maungakiekie, respectively) during the 2011 Elec tions, versus the ‘token’ List MPs the Chinese-Kiwis (2-members) and Indian-Kiwis (1-member) ‘chosen’ by some major political parties to balance out the pro verbial boatload of migrants from overseas.

 

Of course, there are a few ways to go around these impediments without necessar ily breaking the rules of the game, like setting up an pan-ethnic based political party similar to what the Māori Party have done in the past in an effort to bring together their tribal ‘wakas’. But, in their case, with only just 2 Electoral MPs (for Waiariki and Tamaki Makaurau districts) to show for their efforts at present it seems that ‘politics’ always gets into their way. For example, there were origin ally four sitting Māori Party Electorate MPs – Hone Harawira (for Te Tai Tokerau district) who bolted out and set up the Mana Movement/Party, and Tariana Turia (for Te Tai Hauauru district) who is retiring from Parliament.

 

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ACROSS A NUMBER OF VITAL FRONTS

 

Over the years ethnic migrant voters have tended to gravitate towards the main stream political parties in now what has turned out to be hopes that they could further the interests, opportunities and aspiration of their own communities. After all, aren’t they tax- and rate payers as well? Don’t they contribute meaning fully to the financial and economic development of this country? Aren’t they also propping up the population by number to prevent it from frittering away into insignificance across a number of vital fronts?

 

Apparently, that doesn’t matter much because even with the Māori and Pacific Islanders’ own experience with the established order and powers that be, the hydra head of tokenism continues to rear its face. If left to continue, it will have some serious repercussions for the whole country in the near future.

 

Asian residents and citizens in New Zealand don’t have sufficient Electoral MPs in Parliament, and for that matter, councilors in Auckland Council. The numbers should be now stacking up but don’t. For both a country and a city like Auckland (the largest) that have significant percentages of the population who are born outside New Zealand, the low voter turnout at the local body elections in Octo ber of last year does not auger well for the political advancement of the growing Asian community in New Zealand.

 

At some point very soon, and because the Asian Community will become the largest ethnic migrant component group in New Zealand much as Census 2013 results already confirm, their constituent members (including the Filipino-Kiwi sub-group) will increasingly feel more alienated and ostracised by the sham poli tical process. The one or few of them who do step up to the plate will continue to be regarded as tokenistic veneers in a political system that otherwise has little interest in the needs, concerns and rights of this large segment of our society.

 

So for now, there you have it. Either you get busy with living, or get busy with dying. Either way, the choice is yours.

 

Filipinos in Wellington | A Matter of Tokenism

 

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