If there’s one thing you can pretty much guarantee about an election, it’s that plenty of disturbing rhetoric will be thrown around in the lead up to the final ballot. Case in point: Donald Trump. The airing of vile opinions is a sad – but some would argue vital – stalwart of the democratic process, and New Zealand’s 2017 election will certainly not be immune.
Which is why we need to talk about immigration now. It may not be the most riveting of topics to discuss, but as the rise of Donald Trump and the Brexit have demonstrated, it’s a subject we ignore at our peril.
The fact is, whether the anti-immigration crowd want to admit it or not, immigration is a fundamental building block of Kiwi culture. Most of those who oppose immigration arrived on these shores only a few generations ago. Did their ancestors take into account any anti-immigration sentiment Māori may have had upon their rival? Of course not.
Uncomfortable though it may be to admit it, underpinning many conversations about immigration is an undeniable whiff of racism. Are people calling for British migrants to be sent back to the motherland? Lol. As in ‘duh obviously not’, rather than funny-har-har. The groups that are routinely targeted are those from places like China, India, African and Middle Eastern nations (which is most certainly not funny) – even though Britain is one of the four countries contributing the highest numbers to our immigration figures.
Sure, there are legitimate concerns about current immigration levels – particularly for Auckland. The simple truth is that the city is sagging under the weight of its current population thanks to ancient and underfunded infrastructure and a long history of terrible city planning. Implementing restrictions to immigration into Auckland may be a necessity until the city’s infrastructure can be dragged into the twenty-first century.
Thankfully, Auckland is already a vibrant, multicultural city. With a housing crisis underway, however, it makes little sense to bring more people into a city that cannot adequately cater for those who already live in it. This is a conversation we should be having right now. Why? Because otherwise the racists will hijack the discussion for their own purposes, using half-truths and cherry-picked statistics to advance their own agenda.
And they won’t be ignored. When people feel resentful and disregarded, it doesn’t take much for an opportunistic figure to fill the vacuum their leaders leave wide open.
We’ve seen the destruction similar situations have wrought in places like the UK, the USA and Austria, and we owe it to ourselves (and our sense of national dignity) not to repeat their mistakes.
The stakes are too high for us to ignore. Let’s get the conversation started.