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Chris Carter Speech: One people, many canoes

Chris Carter Speech: One people, many canoes: achievements and goals in Ethnic Affairs

Welcome and Introduction

· Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends, kia ora, namaste, ni hao, zdravo, as-salam aalaykum!

· Thank you for inviting me to address this public forum. I have come here tonight to give you an account of the Government's achievements in the Ethnic Affairs portfolio, and, more importantly, to tell you about the goals that we have set for ourselves in the coming years.

· I bring you the warm regards of our Prime Minister, Helen Clark, an important friend of ethnic people at the Government's top table.

· There is no doubt that the ethnic and cultural profile of New Zealand is changing. Close to ten percent of New Zealanders come from backgrounds other than Maori, Pacific or Anglo-Celtic. This is a vibrant and diverse population, with specific cultural, social and developmental needs.

· A majority of migrants to New Zealand, and virtually all refugees, now originate from non-traditional source countries, such as China, India, and countries of Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America. They have more in common with Maori seafarers of a thousand years ago and my own ancestors from poverty-stricken Ireland than you might think. Migrants have come to New Zealand, throughout the ages, in search of a better life.

· What does better life entail? Is there such a thing as a New Zealand dream? Certainly, many migrants, and their children especially, have done exceptionally well here - some of our most prominent sportspeople, artists, legal minds and politicians come from foreign backgrounds.

· Migration renews our society, brings us bright colours, strange new tastes, the sounds of foreign languages spoken in our shops and on our streets and many other economic, social and cultural benefits.

· Of course, it is not easy to be a migrant. It must be even worse to be a refugee. I sometimes try to imagine what it would be like if my partner and I decided to relocate to China. Would we have the resourcefulness, drive, dedication and skills to survive, let alone succeed, in a place so totally alien that even a trip to the dairy would present an insurmountable linguistic barrier?

· No wonder then that migrants and refugees have special needs. It is the duty of any government, especially a progressive, centre-left one like ours, to do whatever it can to assist the integration of new migrants.

· It is our also duty to listen, to be available, to do our utmost to represent and cater for these new Kiwis, who, although new to our country, have an undeniable claim to citizenship in the broadest sense.

· That is why we have created the Ethnic Affairs portfolio.

· In Maori, Ethnic Affairs has been translated as Matawaka - Many Canoes. I am the Minister of Many Canoes. I think this term is really appropriate because many canoes (and ships, and planes) have come to this beautiful land since Kupe, bearing many different peoples.

Achievements in Ethnic Affairs

· An accountable government stands or falls on the promises that it makes to the electorate, including ethnic voters. I am really proud that the Labour-led government has said clearly what it wants to do, and it has done what it said.

· One of these promises was to appoint New Zealand's first ever Minister for Ethnic Affairs. This was done in 1999.

· I helped develop Labour's 2002 Ethnic Affairs Manifesto and I can say that we have fulfilled every promise contained in it. The last twelve months have been a period of intense activity, both in my office at Parliament and in the Office of Ethnic Affairs.

Office of Ethnic Affairs

· I must single out the Office of Ethnic Affairs for exceptional praise. It is a small division within the Department of Internal Affairs, which was set up in 2001 to protect and represent the interests of ethnic New Zealanders. The Office also employs community advisors, people tasked to work with communities directly in New Zealand's three major centres. The Office is staffed by extraordinarily dedicated people, many of them ethnic people, who are keen to make a difference for refugees and migrants by working within government.

Chinese Apology

· Last year, the Prime Minister delivered her historic apology to Chinese New Zealanders who paid the unfair Poll Tax and to their descendants. The Poll Tax was levied for more than fifty years in the 19th and 20th centuries for no other reason than to deter Chinese migration to New Zealand. The few Chinese who came during this period had to borrow several years' worth of earnings simply to pay the Poll Tax.

· We recognised, by delivering the apology, that this historical wrong needed to be corrected. The descendants of Poll Tax payers, of whom only two now survive, have never sought direct financial compensation. Nevertheless, I am working with my department, and with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, on completing the apology by making an appropriate financial gesture. Any money set aside by the government for this purpose will be used to promote Chinese culture in New Zealand and to preserve the memory of early Chinese settlers.

Ethnic Perspectives in Policy

· Another important achievement in my portfolio is the completion of the 'Ethnic Perspectives in Policy' document. This is a policy framework, formally adopted by Cabinet, which says that all government departments must consider ethnic people's needs when developing policy. This may sound insignificant, but in the machinery of government it is absolutely revolutionary. All policy - education, health, housing, immigration, policing, and economic development - must now incorporate the ethnic perspective. This is a major achievement that will ensure a voice for ethnic people in every sphere of government.

Language Line

· Many of you are also probably aware of Language Line, the Government's new 35-language telephone interpreting service. The concept is simple - a non-English speaker phones a government department such as Housing, Work and Income or the police. If they have trouble communicating with the call centre operator we can now usually put an interpreter in their own language on the line within six minutes. The interpreter is there to ensure the ease of communication and to accurately convey information that can be critically important, like on 111 calls for instance.

· Language Line is being piloted for one year but I can report that we are already getting more than 200 calls a week. Some of the most popular languages have been Mandarin, Korean and Samoan.

Listening Forums

· Throughout the last twelve months, I have been running a series of ethnic listening forums - public forums much like this one tonight. They are designed to allow ethnic communities direct contact with me as their Minister, and with government officials working in areas of migrant and refugee interest. We have held five such forums, the most recent one in Wellington three weeks ago. The positive response at these forums has been overwhelming. As you can imagine, many refugees and migrants come from countries where a government minister would be surrounded by armed bodyguards. Not so in New Zealand! It is invaluable for me to be able to hear the thoughts and concerns of ethnic people first-hand. I plan to host many more listening forums throughout New Zealand, with a wide selection of ethnic communities.

Ethnic Appointments Database

· Finally, the Office of Ethnic Affairs has recently implemented some interesting initiatives. The most important of these has been the creation of the database of CVs of ethnic people, to be used for appointments to government bodies and boards, and for the award of Royal Honours. I know that there are a lot of capable, well-qualified ethnic people out there. The government considers hundreds of appointments to various boards, committees and quasi-judicial authorities each year and it has been tremendously helpful to have a database of ethnic people that we can draw upon for these nominations. Similarly, the twice-yearly Royal Honours round provides an excellent opportunity for ethnic people in our communities to be recognised. I can think of no better example that our very own hard working Anoma de Silva, who was recently awarded a Royal Honour.

· As a portfolio, Ethnic Affairs exists as part of a whole-of-government strategy to improve migrant and refugee settlement outcomes. Every one of my Ministerial colleagues could give you a dozen examples from their own portfolio of the things that the Government has done for ethnic people, in this term alone. We will know that we have succeeded when every migrant in our country is able to integrate into our society quickly and contribute fully to its development. That is the task for the years ahead.

Looking Ahead

· Let me now detail some of the initiatives that are part of the Government's and my vision for ethnic affairs.

· I hope to expand the community and settlement service capability of the Office of Ethnic Affairs. This will mean more Ethnic Community Advisors working with ethnic people in all the main centres, including in places such as Hamilton and Dunedin where there is no representation at the moment.

· The Language Line pilot, once successfully established, should be expanded to include more government departments, more languages, and possibly a 24-hour service. The Australian equivalent of Language Line, which is very successful, has been running for years with 24-hours access to interpreters in more than 200 languages - practically every major language on the planet.

· I will continue to advocate for more ethnic people to be given appointments on government boards and authorities. We also need to see more ethnic people in the Honours Roll. Encouraging people to participate and recognising their hard work is an excellent way of achieving integration.

· There will be many more ethnic listening forums all across New Zealand. Once a sufficient number have been conducted, my department will produce a summary of feedback in booklet form. This document will be the first of its kind - a direct insight into the settlement experiences and concerns of thousands of ethnic people.

· I will continue to promote the 'Ethnic Perspectives in Policy' document. I aim for the Office of Ethnic Affairs to become an important policy 'watchdog' body, similar to the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, which will ensure awareness of ethnic people's needs throughout government.

· I will use my other position as Minister of Local Government to encourage local authorities to invest in migrant and refugee settlement services. Local councils often have their finger on the pulse of their local communities - facilitating migrant and refugee integration should be a central part of their role.

· Finally, I will look to you, as ethnic people, refugee and migrant workers and friends, for guidance on where to take this portfolio. Community participation is essential in every area of policy, and that is especially the case in ethnic affairs.

Conclusion

· Thank you again for inviting me and I will be very happy to take questions.


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