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What's Going Wong - 21 December 2005

Comings and Goings – 21 December 2005

Ending the Parliamentary year listening to spin-doctor Simon Walker's dissection of the British political scene was most appropriate. Walker first shot to fame in 1976 when he upstaged Muldoon during a televised interview. When Muldoon walked out of the studio, Walker strode into fame. He has since worked as the Communications Secretary at Buckingham Palace, an adviser at No.10 Downing Street and is currently the Corporate Marketing and Communications Director at Reuters.

Unfortunately, Simon was unable to talk to us in person this year and instead enlightened us by video link. I was particularly interested in two comments he made about the development of Reuters and the new leader of the Conservative Party in Britain. When Reuters was deciding where to base an operation in Australia or New Zealand, the company decided to open an office in New South Wales because we didn't have enough Mandarin and Asian language speakers with appropriate technical skills.

In general, New Zealand hasn't appreciated the value of acquiring a second language and this attitude needs to be examined. Anecdotal evidence suggests that nowadays fewer secondary school students are studying a foreign language.

According to Simon Walker, David Cameron (the new young leader of the Conservative Party in the UK) has propelled the party forward by 40 years due to the difference in age between him and previous leaders. One of the first visits that Cameron made was to the Asian and black communities, which carried an extremely important message about the need for an inclusive society as towns and cities become more diverse, and the worldwide demand for skilled migrants, international students and tourists continues.

The message of diversity will take centre stage here next February with the opening of the Co-Existence exhibition at the Britomart Precinct. This exhibition has toured in 22 major cities and uses powerful images to show how artists perceive the co-existence of human beings. This show will be absolutely stunning and add to the beauty of the Auckland waterfront.

Albert Park in Auckland will also play host to the Chinese Lantern Festival during February. This is part of Chinese New Year celebrations and every year more than 100,000 people flock to the park to see hundreds and hundreds of lanterns light up the night sky. Christchurch hosted its first festival last year and I am sure that Cantabrians will once again be out in force at next year's festival.

These two events, along with Waitangi Day and the largest Pasifika festival, will make 2006 an even more vibrant and exciting year.

Meanwhile, I have decided that it's time for What's Going wONg to say good-bye. People who appreciate that I have a great sense of humour originally suggested this title, and it has hit the button time and time again. The reason I have chosen to retire this title for an even more appropriate one due to the 'accent' incident in Parliament.

You maybe aware of the alleged mocking of my accent by Immigration Minister, the Hon. David Cunliffe. This happened during a robust exchange about the differences in policy between the Government and the Foreign Affairs Minister and what this could mean for our export education sector which is worth $2 billion a year.

While answering one of my questions, the Minister reportedly said 'wead' instead of 'read', which led to Labour's front bench sinking down to the depths they are used to by openly laughing at Cunliffe's 'unfortunate' slip up. One of my colleagues took a point of order at this behaviour, which resulted in Cullen declaring that my accent was the cause of amusement.

When Cunliffe rang to claim that he didn't make the comment on purpose I accepted his assurances. However, the main point of his phone call was to stress his concern that the Chinese community might take offence, never mind his fellow MP!

Even more appalling were the comments made by the Deputy Prime Minister to my face. By chance I met Cullen in the corridors of the Beehive, where he preceded to tell me that the National frontbench had also been enjoying a hearty laugh at my expense. Whether this is true or not, the fact that Cullen seemed to think it's ok if others do disturbed me.

As Members of Parliament we are elected to exercise our sound judgement, be responsible for our own actions and lead our fellow New Zealanders. I don't want to be part of a pack mentality and for Cullen to hide behind his lame excuse is not good enough!

What is even more disappointing is that the important issue I was trying to highlight went completely under the radar. Our export education sector is facing serious problems. This $2 billion market has 1,000 fewer English language students, and in schools there are 2000 fewer students. This downturn will place a strain on our schools in the coming year because fees from international students contribute significantly in balancing their books.

I have decided that the way forward is to rename this newsletter as 'Pansyspeak'. I am very proud of my unique tri-lingual ability - I speak Mandarin with a Cantonese accent and Cantonese with a Shanghai-ese accent and make no apologies for this.

Until then, I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you in 2006.

ENDS

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