New Citizens = New Politics: Providing it's not simply a front for Natural Dairy NZ, the Chinese-backed company attempting to purchase the Crafar family's dairy farms, the "New Citizens Party" has every chance of becoming a significant factor in the New Zealand electoral equation.
A FORTNIGHT AGO an application to register the "New Citizens Party" was lodged with the Electoral Commission.
A Mr Paul Young, of the Auckland-based firm Asia Marketing and Advertising Consultants, is handling the paperwork, but until the registration process is complete the identity of the new party’s principal backers must remain frustratingly unclear.
Naturally there’s considerable speculation surrounding the nature and purpose of the New Citizens Party (NCP). Some Aucklanders are already linking it to the public relations campaign being waged on behalf of Natural Dairy NZ – the Chinese-backed firm currently seeking Overseas Investment Office permission to purchase the Crafar family’s delinquent dairy farms.
Similar associations have been made in relation to an expensively produced newspaper, United, which began circulating recently in Auckland.
Celebrating the economic and cultural ties linking New Zealand and Asia (especially China) United is obviously supposed to be an antidote to the poisonous outpourings of anti-foreign (especially anti-Chinese) sentiment unleashed by Natural Dairy NZ’s bid to purchase New Zealand farmland.
Absent from both ventures, however, is any sense that the people behind them have much understanding of New Zealand politics.
Nothing is more likely to arouse the suspicion of ordinary Kiwis than a group of unidentified businessmen funding an expensive new publication and/or political organisation. And if it turns out that those unidentified businessmen are acting in the interests of a foreign power? Well, then it’s "Game Over".
Which is not to say that there is no place in New Zealand for a political party dedicated to protecting and advancing the interests of "new citizens".
The immigration policies of successive governments have caused the percentage of foreign-born New Zealanders to rise quite markedly over the past two decades. In 2005, this country's foreign-born residents (excluding Australians) numbered 624,405 or 18 percent of the total population. It will not be many years, say the Statisticians, before the number of New Zealanders whose parents were born in East Asia (China, Taiwan, South Korea) exceeds the entire Maori population.
If it’s possible to make a coherent political case for a Maori Party, then why not a party for recent immigrants?
The first thing such a party must have is someone to lead it.
The NCP leader would need to be a long-time New Zealand resident and a fluent English speaker with a genuine track-record of service to either their own ethnic group, or the wider immigrant community – or both. If at all possible, they would also have to possess what might be called the "Jackie Chan", or even the "Winston Peters" Factor: an ability to inspire affection and trust across the ethnic divide.
That’s a very big ask.
The only people who spring to mind are Associate Professor Manying Ip from the University of Auckland’s School of Asian Studies, and the former Race Relations Conciliator, Gregory Fortuin. (It would be interesting to know if either of them has yet been approached by the NCP’s organisers.)
The next big ask is a policy manifesto that makes sense not only to immigrants – but to "native-born" Kiwis.
My intuition is that such a manifesto would have at its core the vision of a more disciplined, diligent and family-oriented New Zealand.
Interestingly, the man handling the NCP’s application to the Electoral Commission, Mr Young, is completely "on message" in this regard. According to The NZ Herald, he sees the NCP focusing on "community safety, legal and educational issues", as well as having "a particular interest in improving the economy".
Liberal-minded New Zealanders might find the sort of policies advanced by immigrant communities unappealing. They would almost certainly reject, for example, any suggestion that Parliament re-introduce the death penalty for murder, or require criminals found guilty of multiple offences to serve their sentences consecutively rather than concurrently.
But, an NCP which promoted such hard-line policies on "community safety and legal issues" might be surprised at how much "native-born" support it attracted. How could Garth McVicar’s Sensible Sentencing Trust not give such a party the big thumbs-up?
Policies demanding a radical overhaul of the New Zealand education system could likewise strike a chord well beyond the confines of this country’s immigrant communities.
Hell! Throw in a commitment to promote the sort of state-guided capitalism that’s turned China, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea into such dynamic and successful economies – and even an old lefty like me might start taking an interest in the NCP.
Just steer clear of the Crafars’ farms!
This essay was originally published in The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Evening Star of Friday, 10 September 2010.