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Gordon Campbell on refugees, the flag and Bo Diddley

Gordon Campbell on refugees, the flag and Bo Diddley

There’s a simple statistical reason why New Zealand should increase its refugee intake. Our UN quota has remained static – or fallen slightly – over the past 30 years. Over the same period, both our economy and our population has grown substantially – which means the burden imposed on New Zealand by this static number of refugees has steadily fallen in relative terms over the past several decades. It also means that if New Zealand’s capacity to support an expansion of its UN quota intake is currently a problem – which it apparently is – then this should be taken as an indication of the systematic neglect of refugee needs by a series of National and Labour governments.

Currently, the main driver of the refugee tide into Europe is the war in Syria, where the Assad regime is steadily losing its battle for survival against Islamic State and other fundamentalist Islamic forces. Governments in Europe and elsewhere have been able to slow down the military advance of IS, but the refugee exodus from the region is only likely to increase, for the foreseeable. New Zealand has to be part of the international response. Yet until now, Prime Minister John Key has put this country in the same despicable camp as the Australia of Tony Abbott and the Britain of David Cameron. Like them, we’ve been content to put up the shutters and to refuse any substantial help to the Europeans in their time of need. As pointed out in this column yesterday, this is hardly the kind of response we like to honour on Anzac Day. Meanwhile, Europe is splintering between compassion and hostility towards the refugees.

What can a small island nation do, when its government offers only a token response – at best– to an overwhelming humanitarian crisis ? Well, people can mount their own protests in order to spur their deadshit government to do more. That’s what has happened in Iceland when the country’s government said it would take in only 50 refugees.

The ordinary people of Iceland made their feelings clear:

Ten thousand Icelanders have offered to welcome Syrian refugees into their homes, as part of a Facebook campaign launched by a prominent author after the government said it would take in only a handful.

After the Icelandic government announced last month that it would only accept 50 humanitarian refugees from Syria, Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir encouraged fellow citizens to speak out in favour of those in need of asylum. In the space of 24 hours, 10,000 Icelanders – the country’s population is 300,000 – took to Facebook to offer up their homes and urge their government to do more.

"I'm a single mother with a 6-year-old son... We can take a child in need. I'm a teacher and would teach the child to speak, read and write Icelandic and adjust to Icelandic society. We have clothes, a bed, toys and everything a child needs. I would of course pay for the airplane ticket," wrote Hekla Stefansdottir in a post.

Lets see: 10,000 offers of asylum in an Icelandic population of 300,000. In a population the same size as New Zealand, that would translate to 148,500, which would be considerably more than our current UN quota intake of 750 refugees.

Flag It

And a nation yawned in boredom – and bowed their heads down instead to the Hypnoflag.

Yep, the four semi-final flag contenders chosen by the panel could hardly be less inspirational. On the other hand, incompetence of the selection panel has been truly awe-inspiring. (Did it really not matter to them that two of the contenders are the same design with different colours? Obviously not.) Besides, several of these designs will pose problems of (a) the black or (b) the white components bleeding into their surrounds when they’re put on a black jersey, or on a white page. Since this exercise began and seems likely to end with putting a rugby logo on our flag, that should be considered relevant.

The blurring of our national identity with rugby reached its logical conclusion this week, when the All Black team for the Rugby World Cup was announced at Parliament. Here’s the quote by Key on why he felt that was appropriate:

“The reason why they wanted to do it and the reason why its appropriate is that Parliament is the House of Representatives. It represents every New Zealander, and actually the All Blacks I think as I said in my remarks, are admired by every New Zealander. So I think its appropriate. Its what they wanted….”

Just for the record, some of us don’t admire the All Blacks. Some of us even feel repelled by the extensive investment by some of them in the ( notoriously underpaid) aged-care sector.

Dan Carter and Richie McCaw and other name rugby players have together taken a stake of about 10 per cent in the “boutique” Park Lane Retirement Village, located a few steps from the new AMI Stadium. Stage one of the $80 million Park Lane Retirement Village in Christchurch was opened yesterday by Prime Minister John Key, at a gathering which included Carter and fellow investors All Blacks Andy Ellis and Corey Flynn.

Carter said he had invested in seven retirement villages, including complexes in Blenheim, Nelson and Christchurch, drawn in by Ben Hurst, the son of 1970s All Black Ian Hurst, who worked in the sector. Former All Black Greg Somerville was another one of the early investors in the retirement sector.

Other current or former All Blacks sharing in the 10 per cent stake in Park Lane include Kieran Read, Leon MacDonald, Mark Robinson, Aaron Mauger, and former Crusader and now Scottish international Sean Maitland.

This flag process is something a country does only every hundred years or so. For no particular reason – other than John Key’s political need for a distraction - we’ve spent a ton of taxpayer money trying to find a better option than the current flag, and have comprehensively failed to do so. Lets cut our losses, and save what we can of that $26 million due to be wasted between now and next March. That money would go a long way to paying for food and warm home insulation for families in poverty. It could even pay for the re-settlement needs of the refugee intake.

With his usual acumen, here’s Bo Diddley expressing what most of us felt when we saw the final list of contenders chosen…

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