Guest Opinion: The Winston Peters Show - Jack Yan
The Winston Peters Show
Jack Yan - Publisher
IT’S RARE that I would toss my hat into the political debates in this country. As a publisher, albeit of special interest titles, I have a duty to remain above all of it.
Not that I haven’t dabbled in the past, or written to politicians. But this time, I had to think whether it was worth standing on the sidelines.
Maybe not. Because I see the same speech given by Mr Winston Peters in the middle of each decade, and I know he is a clever fellow. I want him to work harder in creating a new script rather than re-run the programme on telly. As we know, The New Dick Van Dyke Show was not as entertaining as the original Dick Van Dyke Show. It is a parallel that we can use here, for The Winston Peters Show.
As a Chinese New Zealander who came here in 1976, with my parents, at a time when immigration was much tougher, I find much of the Orewa speech of last week tiresome.
What Mr Peters really is saying is that both National and Labour haven’t done particularly well with immigration.
My folks came here to escape 1997, the year Hong Kong was due to be handed back to the Communists. When my father’s land-owning family escaped from Red China in 1949, they certainly weren’t going to live under an oppressive régime again.
My mother had enough brute foresight to play the generation game, and decided that there was no way I would get to age 25 and be stuck there.
With her long-term planning, we emigrated. My father retrained, in his 30s, to a new trade. And we got here.
By the 1980s and 1990s, Hong Kong citizens far, far richer than we were wanted a new home, because they realized 1997 was getting closer. China hadn’t really advanced in its human rights record and Tianenmen Square, that event that the Politburo denies happened as much as the Japanese do about World War II, triggered even more ideas about emigration.
New Zealand said no. It was only a couple of generations since the Poll Tax was last put on Chinese immigration, and the Yellow Peril was heavily ingrained in policy. I imagine it must continue to be in some people’s minds.
That, and likely a confusion by less enlightened parties between the Japanese, whom many New Zealanders fought against, and the Chinese, who were the Allies that suffered 32 million casualties during World War II.
So these rich Hong Kong migrants found other homes, like the Gold Coast or Sydney. Or, for many of them, Vancouver. This was what caused British Columbia’s economic rise at the time, and why it seemed, at least to an outsider, to be immune from the early 1990s’ recession. It is exactly how you expect a broad-minded country like Canada to act.
And yet, British Columbia might have more Chinese around but can anyone reading this say that “Canadaness” has been extinguished? It certainly wasn’t on my last trip there.
By the time New Zealand clicked, there weren’t that many “Asians” to choose from, and I am afraid that in some cases, we may have been more lax in our immigration. The Yellow Peril returned.
We had the new migrants that even some Chinese were not particularly happy about, not that any of us have been as vocal as I am being here. The reason we stay mum is that we see Mr Peters group the whole bunch of us into one lot. He might not say so, but that is the effect when you are a New Zealander of eastern Asian descent. All of a sudden, “the Asians”, all 3.6 billion of us, are a threat. Remember, we “Asians” just locked up Schapelle Corby. We must be evil.
The issue about being a minority is that a stigma is placed on you when such speeches are given.
All of a sudden, you move from integrated to outcast. Because you are identified as part of the problem.
Therefore, we present a united front. We might as well.
But if some of us are unhappy about getting our race’s name dragged through the mud because of less choosy immigration policies of late, surely we should be writing congratulatory messages to the Honourable Member for Tauranga?
Fortunately, most New Zealanders, in my view, don’t harbour racist sentiment and find such speeches plain odd. However, to many the idea of “Asians” (Chinese? Indian? Bangladeshi?) being the next biggest demographic group after Caucasians is a horrifying thought. Mr Peters gives the impression that our major cities now have shop signs all in some Johnny Foreigner script, that the White New Zealand way of life is disappearing.
LET ME get the most powerful argument out of the way first: culture.
New Zealand culture, as we know it today, is not going to change in a hurry. Anyone who thinks immigrants can come in and change it must have an awful lot of insecurity about its strength. They must, by definition, believe that New Zealand culture is weak and subject to easy assault by a few immigrants. If they think New Zealand culture is that weak, then they probably lack in it.
Those who are genuinely proud of their cultures share it. It is a human condition. I remember that when we first arrived, a colleague of my father, one Colin McKenzie, drove us all around the southern part of the North Island in his Wolseley. He loved this country and wanted to show how much he did. He wanted to impress us. It worked.
Now, I ask, if we have national pride, why are we concerned? Surely we should believe that “our multiculture” is worthy of sharing? That its superiority will hold up?
Unless, we refer to “white culture”, or “Anglo culture”. But even to those who do resent anything but the Anglo aspect to New Zealand should insist on a new script from the writers of The Winston Peters Show.
I have been here 29 years and have not seen much of a shift. Sure, I can find it easier to get yum char and a bottle of soya sauce. But we are far, far away from becoming the sort of multiculture of, say, California. And it hasn’t exactly affected the majority race of California that much, even if its Governor now hails from a region in Austria not exactly known for speaking nicely in German. Or English. (And is California any less cool because Gov Schwarzenegger is an immigrant? Are Californians now eating gulasch or Tafelspitz?)
Look at us: we say Maori is an official language and persist on having monolingual banknotes. Satan himself will be complaining of the ice on his front door before that changes. And certainly Chinese is not going to be the second language on those notes.
So those who insist that we are still the Empah’s back yard should not be overly concerned as long as Her Majesty is on the coins and ‘God Save the Queen’ may still be sung in official circumstances. The disappearance of ‘OHMS’ from the corners of official envelopes has nothing to do with immigrants.
Nor is it to do with the cancellation of Keeping up Appearanceson the telly.
The patriot need not care about any Asianification of New Zealand culture. There may be a few niche shops here and there, and there are probably more down Queen Street, but they are shops that operate in a culture that has not shifted in the three decades I’ve lived here. If you are of the majority race, ask yourself: do you actually feel any different because of immigrants? Has your soul been modified because of immigration?
Or are you just better informed now?
If anything, we remain quite a monoculture, which a few of us immigrants milling around the periphery, who hardly threaten it. Indeed, we respect the mutual gains we might have in interacting with it.
ONE OF THE IDEAS in the latest episode of The Winston Peters Show is inspired by The Sweeney. He talks about a ‘flying squad’ to investigate immigrant crime and fraud.
Some have made nastier comparisons than I will, but consider the waste of taxpayers’ money.
I find the same waste with some policies coming from other parties’ proposals, too, but election-year promises do come with blank cheques. Even the Budget has misplaced some of its allocations, in my view.
Assuming Mr Peters finds a latter-day Jack Regan to helm his Flying Squad, and ask him to only target yellow-skinned Johnny Foreigners, then we’re talking about how many millions of dollars? Not to mention equipping them with souped-up Fords.
Surely it would simply be easier to make immigration policies smarter? Bring in people who are valuable to New Zealand. ’Nuff said.
There’s nothing in Mr Peters’ speech that we didn’t know already, and maybe the only silver lining—while damaging the reputation of all Asians—is his casting light on some valid issues.
However, to talk about national demands based on public input is pandering. We simply don’t know what our needs are because we don’t know where this country is heading. Unless Mr Peters has something in mind that he has not told us yet.
What we need is a clear direction, and train ourselves up for it. In some cases, we do need to develop new industries with the help of outsiders. I am not one to deny the creation of leadership industries in this country and a competitive advantage that all New Zealanders can be proud of. We already gave up our 30-year leadership on hybrid cars when we shot down Think Big and sold our assets, and are back to buying oil off OPEC. I am not standing by to see foresight ruined once more, especially not by xenophobia. Risk aversion is what landed us in the poo.
Unlike some politicians, this New Zealander, even if I was not born here, is a patriot. I carry this nation’s name proudly when I go abroad. I defy anyone to find an example when I did not keep my word. Of being anything less than a New Zealander.
For immigrants who have genuinely adopted New Zealand as a homeland are often more patriotic, because we see an identity about the place that is compatible with our own values and our sense of honour. This is something that Communist-era Hong Kong cannot give me.
As a result, we try to be even better at what we do, because we know how lucky we are. You won’t find a Chinese immigrant singing John Clarke’s song, ‘We don’t know how lucky we are.’ We do know.
I’m the guy who patrols my magazines for infringements of Hart’s Rules. So let this be a final ‘Nuts’ to the idea of the immigrant’s bad English. Some of us may have heavy accents, but at least we know that pronouns don’t have apostrophes.
And human values are, in fact, far more universal. The more people of different races I meet, the more I realize that we’re really not that different.
It is true that some policies have failed. We have not exactly attracted the crème de la crème. It almost seemed that our present immigration policies justified the xenophonia of the 1980s, as if to say, ‘I told you so. Told you those (black or yellow, insert as appropriate) buggers were bad news.’
Paul Swain, the Immigration Minister, may still be wiping egg off his face after the Iraqi affair, but policies such as cleaning up the immigration consultancies are a start.
It is not the quantity of immigrants, but the quality of immigrants.
Immigrants who will contribute to our nation rather than being a drain on our resources.
Immigrants who will strengthen what it means to be a New Zealander and to make ours the greatest sense of nationhood in the world.
The only threat politicians can expect from immigrants is that you might get bastards like me writing editorials that hit the truth a bit more than the establishment might be willing to. I don’t mind ruffling feathers in order to make this country great again.
It is only small-minded countries that become xenophobic, and history has shown us that. Red China sank when it closed its doors. As did Nazi Germany.
I am not saying the status quo is ideal, but there are smarter ways to court New Zealanders.
The question is, who will deliver a speech that is smart and has vision? In this election year, I have yet to hear one.