NZ First remit about 'borders' and 'power' not 'values'

9:29 pm on 1 October 2018

By Saziah Bashir*

Opinion - On the face of it, one could not take issue with a bill titled "Respecting NZ Values" if it were aimed at educating and perhaps inducting new migrants and refugees to New Zealand.

After all, we want new arrivals here to understand what we're all about, feel welcomed and included, and more importantly, share the responsibility of upholding the very foundations of what makes their new home such a wonderful place to live.

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Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

But scratch just a bit past the surface (and the façade here truly is a thin one) and NZ First's latest banner for its age-old brand of dog whistle politics is clunky and redundant at best, blatantly racist at worst.

First of all, who gets to design what NZ Values are? If the answer is our Parliament, rather than NZ First with its 7.2 percent of the votes in 2017, we would still need to be satisfied that Parliament is truly representative of all New Zealanders and their most current views.

Some questions remain on representation if you look at the breakdown of our current MPs by gender, age, ethnicity and sexuality, not to mention income, compared with the average New Zealander.

That is to say nothing of the notion of values remaining fixed in a world that is changing faster than ever, and failing to acknowledge that anything codified in law is often slow to keep pace with the progress we make collectively as a society in our ways of thinking and norms of acceptable conduct.

Secondly, how is a law or oath or agreement, whatever form this takes, to be implemented any differently to the existing laws of New Zealand? We already have laws regulating gender discrimination, the consumption and sale of alcohol, the legal age of marriage and so on.

If there is no difference, then it raises the question of why it would be required.

Also, which refugee or migrant, who has gone through the trouble to move here, would decide on arrival at the airport not to sign one last piece of paper in a series of hundreds that they've already signed to get here?

So what's the point? To humiliate migrants at the border in a last ditch attempt to Other them before swallowing the bitter pill of letting in, legally, people who don't look like Grandpa Joe Bloggs? One final flex of power, of holding over their heads that if you don't fit some cookie cutter mould of what we've prescribed a New Zealander is, then you're out? Reminding migrants that this is not and cannot be their home?

If these are not the death throes of xenophobia disguised as populist policy in an increasingly globalised world, what is?

Speaking further to redundancy: It's not clear whether all migrants who have already entered the country will have to retrospectively sign up to this charter of values. Or whether there is an exemption for citizens who took an oath or affirmation of allegiance as I did.

According to NZ First's Clayton Mitchell one of the main aims of the bill is to keep out bigots, racists and xenophobes, a noble objective worthy of support but one that begs the question: what do we do with such racists who are already here, or those born and bred here, and who may look and sound more like Mitchell than a brown Muslim migrant woman such as myself? The confusion this will cause!

It makes one wonder whether NZ First has anything in the pipelines to address non-immigrant locals whose behaviour is so affronting to the values NZ First purport to stand for.

Where the practical implications and efficacy of such a bill are unclear, the intent in bringing it to the forefront of public discourse is not.

It is telling that in referencing the need for this bill, some NZ First supporters feel clear who is to be targeted: those who possess 'Pakistan, Indians and some Asian-type of attitudes' whatever they may be - a generalisation so sweeping it would take some work to unravel.

This is classic fearmongering of the Other: 'They come over here and cause trouble, They bring their problems with them, we don't want their kind here' or, similarly, refer simply to any number of President Donald Trump's campaign speeches. This bill isn't about values: it's about borders, and it's about power.

There definitely is a need and must be a space in the public arena to respectfully discuss smart, effective immigration policy that allows New Zealand to vet who it allows in to the mutual benefit of that individual and our country, while upholding our commitments to various international human rights charters and conventions.

While doing so, we should heed the words of our Prime Minister in her recent UN General Assembly address, we must continue to progress with compassion and kindness where others may hold to fear and isolationism.

*Saziah Bashir is a freelance journalist commenting on issues of social justice, race and gender. She completed an LLB, BCom and LLM from the University of Auckland.

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