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Population and society - Tamihere Speech

Hon. John Tamihere
3 July 2003 Speech Notes

Population and society

Speech to Population Association of New Zealand Conference, Canterbury University

I am sure that most of you here tonight will already have an extremely good grasp of population statistics, and having the Minister of Statistics stand up here and tell you all about population statistics would be a bit like me telling the All Blacks how to play rugby.

So instead I thought I'd start by talking to you about something that probably not quite so many of you will be familiar with.

This year in the early morning of June 2, the star cluster Matariki – probably better known to many of you as Pleiades – appeared in our dawn skies.
The Maori New Year begins with the first new moon after the first appearance of Matariki – this year that was on Monday this week.

Festivities differ from iwi to iwi, but Matariki is for most a rich and meaningful celebration marking the beginning of the plentiful season. It is a time for feasting, entertainment and ceremony, and the weeks of Matariki focus on giving respect for the source of life. As the natural world regenerates, and a new cycle of the seasons begins, Matariki is traditionally a time to pause and reflect – on the year that was, and the year that will be.

Traditional wisdom has it that if the stars in the cluster are clear and bright, the year ahead will be warm and productive, but if they appear hazy and shimmering, a cold winter is in store for us.

I bumped into NIWA boss Jim Salinger at the airport the other week and he assured me the rest of the winter would continue to be relatively mild, and I'm pretty sure he wasn't basing that forecast on the appearance of Matariki, but that's my point: in a multicultural society we can take our cultural reference points from a range of cultures and sources.

If you want to make your forecasts on the basis of the best scientific research and technology that people like Jim Salinger are leading, that's great. If you want to make a prediction based on the appearance of Matariki, that's equally valid. It's all about having choices and differences and respecting each others' choices and differences.

So I am just as happy to celebrate Matariki this week as I was to honour the "mainstream" New Year by seeing in January 1 by singing Auld Lang Syne – and equally I'm just as happy to take part in celebrations for the Chinese New Year (this year being the Year of the Goat) or the celebrations of any of the cultures that make up New Zealand society.

And it is great to see the government acting to ensure that it represents and reflects the diversity of cultures in our society. For example, in 1999 the government set up the Ethnic Affairs Portfolio – headed by my colleague the Hon Chris Carter – in recognition of the growing ethnic and cultural diversity of New Zealand. Last year the government adopted the Ethnic Perspectives in Policy guide to all public departments on creating policy that is responsive to the needs of ethnic New Zealanders.

And I was really pleased to see the positive response to the launch of the campaign We are All New Zealanders last month.

The campaign aims to challenge racial stereotypes and encourage a greater understanding of the many different groups that make up New Zealand society.
Increasing social diversity inevitably creates issues that will be up for discussion, and there is nothing wrong with that. But we must not allow those issues and discussions to become the basis for prejudice.

The campaign is not about shutting down debate on race relations – in fact it does the opposite in encouraging discussion on the issue. It aims to celebrate all people for their unique cultural identity, as well as their common New Zealand identity. It supports the right of every New Zealander not only to be free from harassment and discrimination, but also to be valued and respected.

I think it is a very timely campaign for some statistical reasons which demographers will be well aware of – that is, the growing ethnic diversity of New Zealand's population.

And for the benefit of others who might not be so up with the demographics, I'd like to take a look at the statistics that show how our population is changing to become more ethnically and culturally diverse.

According to Statistic NZ population projections, the Maori population will grow from 586,000 in 2001 to 749,000 by 2021 – an increase of 163,000 or 28 per cent. Maori as a proportion of the total population will increase from 15 per cent in 2001 to 17 per cent in 2021.

The Pacific population projections over the same period show that the Pacific Island population is expected to grow from 262,000 in 2001 to 414,000 by 2021 – an increase of 152,000 or 58 per cent. Pacific Islanders as a proportion of the total population will increase from seven per cent in 2001 to nine per cent in 2021.

Furthermore, the Asian population projections predict that the Asian population in New Zealand will increase from 272,000 in 2001 to 604,000 by 2001 – an increase of 331,000, or about 120 per cent. The Asian share of the total population is projected to increase from seven per cent in 2001 to 13 per cent in 2021.

The release of these figures led to NZ First leader Winston Peters to allege recently that New Zealand was becoming an Asian "colony" – a statement I would suggest does nothing but inflame prejudices and undermines constructive and positive debate on how we as a nation deal with a changing population.

Perhaps anyone who may have actually bothered listening to Mr Peters' poll-driven ranting on the subject will be re-assured by the European population projections, which show that New Zealand's European population is expected to remain steady over the next couple of decades.

The projections show that the European population is expected to grow slightly from 3.07 million in 2001 to reach 3.1 million by 2021.
The European share of the total population is projected to fall from 79 per cent in 2001 to 69 per cent in 2021.

Sure, we acknowledge that any changes to our population come with their challenges, and as a society and a government we need to respond positively to those challenges.

For example some migrants, especially refugees, may have high settlement needs, and we must ensure that those needs are met, and that migrants get the best support we can provide so they can become a contributing and positive part of our society.

Changes to the ethnic make-up of our society also pose particular challenges for our Maori population. With 44.3 per cent of the Maori population aged 0-18, 55.5 per cent aged 0-25, and 70.5 per cent aged 0-35, we have a large proportion of the Maori population who are youthful.

It is crucial for this population of young Maori that they are successful, fully participating members of our society – and there are a number of challenges for the Maori leadership in the next decade or so in ensuring that this happens.

So yes, in 20 years time our population will look quite a bit different. A New Zealand population that is 17 per cent Maori, 13 per cent Asian, nine per cent Pacific Island and 69 per cent European is a more diverse population, socially, culturally and ethnically.

One thing you may have noticed about those figures is that the percentages add up to more than 100 per cent – that's because they take into account those of us who identify as belonging to more than one ethnic group.

And that's an important factor. Not only will there be more people of each ethnic group making up our society, but there will be more intermingling of those groups.

My own genealogy could be seen as an example of that. I personally identify as being of Maori, Scots and Irish descent, and value my ancestry from each of those sources, and the contribution they have each made to who I am.

Throughout our history, New Zealand has been a nation of migrants – we have always experienced the exchanges of cultures, ideas and peoples that come with immigration.

So whether I celebrate the New Year on June 30 or on January 1, or on both, I see that as a positive thing. As a nation we increasingly comprise many different ethnicities and cultures, so let's start looking at the statistics as a really positive and exciting contribution to who we are as New Zealanders.


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