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What's Going wONg: Dancing on a Pinhead

Pansy Wong - What's Going wONg!
1 April 2005

Dancing on a Pinhead

When an Asian person makes the headlines, controversy is never far away. Most of the time the only stories that interest people are about crime or immigration scams. Instead of the spotlight being on the people at the centre of the story, the whole Asian community comes under scrutiny.

When this happens, the media appointed Asian spokesperson will be duly interviewed and will repeat popular opinion or defend the Asian community.

For too long, Asian and minority communities have been seen by the media as a collective identity, and treated as such. This makes it difficult for informed debate because all arguments become generalisations.

I accept that the media will hone in on sensational Asian crimes as the public interest dictates – like the predictable attention shown in the Asian community by reporters after the recent kidnapping case. This was followed by countless reports about the Asian community’s safety concerns. I would be surprised if most New Zealanders weren’t concerned about law and order.

Far too often, settlement problems faced by new migrants are interpreted as problems faced by the entire community, but concerns for some can’t be generalised as concerns for all. Treating Asians as a collective only reinforces the image that all Asian people are recent migrants, and that all their concerns can be addressed through offices like Migrant Settlement Services. I believe Asian communities would be better served if various government departments and their policies and services treated New Zealand as a truly multi-ethnic society.

One way of doing this is to ensure that Asian communities are kept up to date about policy changes and to have access to necessary services. In particular, regulatory authorities need to understand that Asian residents are entitled to the same treatment as others. If there isn’t a shift in entrenched attitudes then the situation isn’t going to improve.

Most will be aware of the recent driving licence scam exposed on television. For a number of years, legitimate Asian driving instructors have sent information to the media and Land Transport New Zealand complaining about driving lessons being offered by unqualified instructors and the publication of outrageous advertisements offering students a full licence without having to sit any tests.

Last year I made the New Zealand Qualifications Authority aware that they should monitor ethnic newspapers for advertisements placed by some language schools. These ads offered students all kinds of incentives, including offers of certificates they could obtain without worrying about class attendance records.

Like Land Transport New Zealand, the NZQA has shown little interest in monitoring these ads.

For too long the Asian communities have been left to fend for themselves, but are put under intense scrutiny whenever there is media hype. For a long time, various Labour Ministers have showered compliments on Asian groups at events, praising their contribution to society, but such ‘cosmetic’ comments don’t come close to tackling the serious issues affecting various Asian New Zealanders.

One way to make these issues public is for the media to develop a genuine interest in people of Asian ethnicity and treat them as individual New Zealanders. By doing this, many will be free to comment and articulate their own thoughts and aspirations.

A slippery slope to a life of crime

Like many of you, I was astounded to find out this week that police had written to a South Auckland dairy owner telling him they couldn’t follow up on a complaint he had made because of a lack of resources, and that it was at the ‘lower end’ of the crime scale.

This was despite the dairy owner supplying police with video footage of a man stealing from his shop. What message does this send to offenders?

Predictably, Police Minister George Hawkins passed the responsibility for this matter to the Police Commissioner, and the Prime Minister described the letter as ‘ill-advised’.

Inspector, Dave Montgomery, the area commander for the southern part of the Counties-Manukau district, said letters like these were regularly sent in his area, depending on their workload.

National Party Leader Dr Don Brash emphatically dismisses this casual acceptance of ignoring petty crime, and last week outlined National’s plans for youth offenders – many of whom begin at the lower end of the crime scale, such as stealing from dairies.

Youth crime is one of the most urgent problems facing our country today, and National wants to stop these offenders early – not putting their crimes on the backburner because they aren’t classed as a high priority.

National will build on programmes initiated while we were last in office, such as Parents As First Teachers. A good home life and strong parenting are the best first line of defence against youth crime. We will also look at reducing truancy and bullying at school.

Most importantly, we need to deal with the current system of Family Conferences. National wants to limit the use of these conferences. Research has shown that two thirds of offenders dealt with by conferences re-offend and end up behind bars within three years.

We want to change the system so that young people aged 12 and over, and who have a record of Family Group Conferences, are referred immediately to a Youth Court judge. In other words, two strikes and then you face the court.

Other initiatives involve introducing new parenting orders, investigating longer sentencing options for the Youth Court, and introducing a behaviour correction contract. For information on this policy you can visit

By catching youth offenders early we can reduce the number of adult offenders. It is simply not acceptable for reported crime to be filed away as low priority – we have to wonder how many youth offenders are falling through the net as a result.

Pansy Wong

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