Tuesday, 28 May 2013

A Place At The Table

Showtime! Winston Peters knows how to exploit New Zealanders' long-standing fear of all things Chinese. But he also knows better than to seriously threaten New Zealand's increasing reliance of the Chinese markets - or to undermine the thirty-year effort it has required to ensure this country's continued access to them.
IT’S “SHOWTIME!” for Winston Peters. Once again New Zealanders’ fears have found an obliging political impresario. In his latest speech, to a Grey Power audience on Auckland’s North Shore, Mr Peters has targeted New Zealand’s rapidly changing demographic profile – most particularly the burgeoning rate of Chinese immigration. For those accustomed to thinking of New Zealand as the “last, loneliest, loveliest” outpost of European civilisation, this dramatic change in the shape of their country’s population is confusing, alarming – even threatening.
Mr Peters’ critics have attempted to characterise his latest observations as “racist” and “xenophobic”. These are easy shots to take. Any immigration trend which suggests that the balance of ethnic power within the national community is shifting will inevitably inspire all manner of racially-inflected political discussions. To condemn such discussions as “racist” is tantamount to ruling all but positive assessments of New Zealand’s current population policy out-of-bounds.
There are plenty of Kiwis who would insist that such mandatory positivism is – and has been for years – the firm policy of New Zealand Governments. Regardless of their partisan composition, successive administrations have extolled the virtues of immigration policies that focus almost exclusively on the economic value of each new immigrant. Any consideration of the socio-cultural dislocations historically associated with such policies has always come well behind the professed priorities of reducing New Zealand’s skills deficit and stimulating domestic demand.
Which is not to say that there weren’t those within the Department of Immigration anxious to forestall any rebirth of the atavistic anti-Chinese sentiment that shaped the immigration policies of nineteenth and early-twentieth century New Zealand. And these efforts to supress all forms of Kiwi Sinophobia would have been strongly supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Preparing for the increasingly important role the People’s Republic of China was going to play in the New Zealand economy has been a central feature of this country’s foreign and trade policies for the last thirty years.
The final triumph of the Chinese Communist Party’s “capitalist roaders” over Mao Zedong’s “iron rice bowl” socialists in the late-1970s anticipated the emergence of the so-called “Washington Consensus” favouring neoliberal capitalism and globalisation in the 1980s. The British called it “Thatcherism”, the Americans “Reaganomics”, and New Zealanders dubbed it “Rogernomics”. At the heart of the new economic paradigm was a vision of the future in which capital, goods (and, ultimately, even labour) would flow freely across a borderless planet.
Ever since both of New Zealand’s major political parties accepted globalised neoliberalism as the fixed shape of the future, the policy mandarins at MFAT have worked tirelessly to ensure that New Zealand would have a place at the table of the economic behemoth China promised to become.
Viewed from this perspective, the vast influx of Chinese nationals to New Zealand makes perfect sense. Whether in the form of fee-paying students, highly-skilled workers, property speculators or financial investors, official New Zealand has consistently welcomed the people upon whose complex personal, business and political networks this country’s economic prosperity has, increasingly, come to depend.
Mr Peters’ North Shore Grey Power audience would undoubtedly receive this largely untold recent history of New Zealand with considerable alarm and dismay. But, tellingly, it’s not the story Mr Peters told. (Even though, as a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, he will know it inside out). Instead, the NZ First leader chose to scratch the familiar itches of Chinese property speculation and the involvement of a very small number of Chinese businessmen in the gambling and sex industries.
Mr Peters knows there are votes to be won from the older generations of New Zealanders (especially those living in Auckland) who are having a harder and harder time reconciling the New Zealand they grew up in with the New Zealand they see all around them today. No doubt he has studied recent political trends in the United States and recognised the huge electoral rewards that can flow to a political party willing to identify itself with those ageing, comfortably-situated, conservative whites who, in one form or another, are feeling the demographic pinch.
What has clearly been a failing strategy for the far-right-driven Republican Party in the United States (where there are now simply too few conservative whites to win the presidency without at least some ethnic allies) it promises to be a real winner for Mr Peters. NZ First is not in a two-party, FPP, fight to the finish. As the consummate MMP politician, Mr Peters will be perfectly content with anything between five and 10 percent of the Party Vote. A few more, carefully calibrated, appeals to “Old New Zealand’s” Sinophobia ought to do the trick.
But Mr Peters remains too much the steadfast patriot to seriously put at risk the place Labour and National have laid for New Zealand at the Chinese table.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 28 May 2013.


David said...

"But Mr Peters remains too much the steadfast patriot to seriously put at risk the place Labour and National have laid for New Zealand at the Chinese table."

I guess that means he is going to do one thing to win votes (play on Chinese immigration fears) and another as part of Government. I would call this effective but morally questionable

Matthew Hooton said...

Chris, you say that "Mr Peters knows there are votes to be won from the older generations of New Zealanders (especially those living in Auckland) who are having a harder and harder time reconciling the New Zealand they grew up in with the New Zealand they see all around them today."

I am sure you are right.

But consider the situation of someone turning 70 in 2015. They were born in 1945, so, have no memory of WW2.

But consider someone born in 1900, turning 70 in 1970. They would have lived through two major wars, probably fought in the second, plus a depression and creation of a welfare state, then radical social change in the 1960s.

I think they would have found 1970 even more challenging that the class of 1945 have reason to find 2015.

So this is not a new phenomena.

Anonymous said...

"There are plenty of Kiwis who would insist that such mandatory positivism is – and has been for years – the firm policy of New Zealand Governments. "

This "mandatory positivism" seems to be coming from the lips of our Great Leader Johnny Boy (in gold lined shoes) daily, by repeated assurances that we are savoring already the early taste of a "brighter future".

For others this "positivism" may look a bit different, that is for the now around 45 to 50 thousand "New Zealanders" (probably also migrant NZers doing the "round trip" through the "back door"), who leave the shores every year, to spend their future, or at least a longer time, working in Australia and elsewhere.

That "positivism" also results in a fair number of migrants from places including China (amongst others), to come here, fill jobs vacated by the ones mentioned above, to work hard and long, with vague promises of a "brighter future" for them also, some time down the line, at the end of a long, long tunnel.

Having met economists selling train tickets, taxi driving engineeers and doctors, teachers working in Kindergartens or as nannies, accountants and lawyers serving at bank counters, this "positivism" looks a bit bizarre to me.

Yes, Peters is a bit of a rascal for what he says now and then, but for some he raises some fair questions about whether all we get is that desirable. And it is perhaps sad, that some criticism is swiftly labelled as "racist", as it does not fit into this "brighter future" of "mandatory positivism".

If this country was all so positive, why do so many that were born and grew up here leave in droves? And also, why do so many from Europe and some from North America leave again? Maybe it is the "adjustment" to the social and economic conditions of the "Asian tigers"?

Kat said...

Consider, 'Mr Hooten', why our immigrant ancestors left England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales to endure the hardships of beginning again on the other side of the world to escape the crippling tory class system, en slavery, you so often eloquently preach as the system de savior of this country.

Go on Matthew, think about the people that colonised this country, their background, their aspirations, and then look in the mirror and say, out loud, Winston Peters is a Demigod!

Yeah right!

Oh, wait....JK calling WP..... !?

Election 2014.... help help winnie...please...please...

Anonymous said...

Y' know what, don't care if they're white as driven snow, the country's filling up, and that'll make it just like everywhere else.

Anonymous said...

I'd vote for Winston He is the only one who cares about the Baby Boomers and the Conservatives. The rest are legislating immorality into law.

I mourn for the NZ I grew up in. NZ is no longer democratic, Marxists in charge.

jh said...

I have to say that whenever I'm confronted with thoughts of the country "filling up" with migrants, it isn't the migrants who give me the creeps, it's the real estate industry. Imagine your life in a place is like an idyllic oil painting and along comes a developer, paints this here, that there etc, etc.
An old friend of my family railed against a real estate agent who wrote a letter to the Press calling the Lyttelton watersiders 'whores". Our friend replied describing the real estate agent as "prowling dingo like for the rich pickings around the harbour". My feelings exactly.

jh said...

strange Winston never mentioned teh Savings Working Group after all:

John Carran, 2 April 1996
“Vehement opposition to immigration, particularly from Asian countries, in New Zealand from an ill-informed and xenophobic rabble persists despite overwhelming evidence that immigration will improve our long term economic prospects.
In 1988 The Institute of Policy Studies published detailed research by Jacques Poot, Ganesh Nana and Bryan Philpott on the effects of migration on the New Zealand economy. The research, which abstracted from the social and environmental impact of immigration, concluded that “…a significant migration inflow can be beneficial to the performance of the New Zealand economy and subsequent consumption and income levels.” The authors point out that this is in general agreement with Australian research on the economic consequences of immigration.
Of course there is more to life than attaining economic excellence. The social and environmental impact of immigration also needs to be considered. But here the reasons given for restricting immigration range from pathetic to extremely dodgy. Most of the accusations are barely disguised racist piffle backed by tenuous rumours and cloudy anecdotes. Winston Peters’ stirring of the masses has exposed the ignorance and racial biases of a small and distasteful section of New Zealand society. These people yearn for a cloistered, inhibited, white (with a bit of brown at the edges) dominated utopia fondly envisaged by racists and xenophobes everywhere.

Savings Working Group
January 2011
“The big adverse gap in productivity between New Zealand and other countries opened up from the 1970s to the early 1990s. The policy choice that increased immigration – given the number of employers increasingly unable to pay First-World wages to the existing population and all the capital requirements that increasing populations involve – looks likely to have worked almost directly against the adjustment New Zealand needed to make and it might have been better off with a lower rate of net immigration. This adjustment would have involved a lower real interest rate (and cost of capital) and a lower real exchange rate, meaning a more favourable environment for raising the low level of productive capital per worker and labour productivity. The low level of capital per worker is a striking symptom of New Zealand’s economic challenge.


jh said...

Amongst all the discussion on the Auckland Town plan (out or up) we are told that the government is explicitly trying to grow the population to achieve agglomeration effects... I believe Haiti has them. Japan has them in bucket loads but it is described as "a bug looking for a windshield".
We have seen the first act: infill, traffic, all the things most NZr's don't like (as a rule). There's a big danger we will end up with all the bad and few of the good but the property elite would have made their money and be snug somewhere.