We need to stand for Niki, because she is standing up for you

niki

Source: Stuff.

Vanessa Cole is a member of the Tāmaki Housing Action Group.

This article will be published in Fightback’s magazine on Urban Revolution and the Right to City. To subscribe, click here.

Elderly tenant Ioela ‘Niki’ Rauti has made headlines for refusing to be moved from her house on Taniwha Street, Glen Innes. While she has received support from many people, the backlash from some commentators have tried to derail her struggle by framing her as selfish for holding on to a three-bedroom home during a housing crisis. Niki’s struggle is not an individual struggle, but a struggle of people against the processes of capital accumulation and its manifestation in the state-led gentrification of Tāmaki.

In The New Zealand Experiment, Jane Kelsey shows New Zealand’s historical habit of blindly following economic ideas that had never been trialled elsewhere in the world. The Tāmaki experiment is much the same – adopting urban planning and privatisation which have failed internationally. The transfer of 2,800 state houses in Tāmaki (Panmure, Point England and Glen Innes) to the Tāmaki Redevelopment Company (TRC) is privatisation by stealth. The insidious language used by the TRC frames this transfer as urban ‘regeneration’ – a grand project which will see the building of more homes and the revitalising of a community which embodies the problems associated with the geographical concentration of poverty.

The experiment in Tāmaki is a well-orchestrated campaign. The reality of these policies, without the spin, is mass privatisation of state housing, the displacement of the poor through state-led gentrification processes, and destruction of working class communities by private developers into a desirable and attractive landscape for an incoming middle-class. If Tāmaki was the experiment for the rest of Auckland, and for the rest of New Zealand, then it is a failed experiment. While the redevelopment has received public attention and criticism, the discourses and myths produced by the Government are powerful in justifying and dampen the violence of dispossession.

Paula Bennett promised that freeing up public land by removing state homes in Tāmaki and building more houses will help alleviate the exorbitant increases in house prices and build more houses for those in need. Yes, more houses have been built, but providing public land to private developers has led to exploding unaffordability. The median land values in Glen Innes, one of the first areas to be redeveloped, have increased from $400,000 to nearly 1 million since the redevelopment begun in 2012. The housing market in Tāmaki demonstrates that increasing supply and density of housing does not necessitate affordability. One reasons is that our existing affordable housing (state housing) is being replaced by a large amount of private housing, and property developers are not interested in the reduced profits of “affordability.” State housing once functioned to stabilise the housing market in particular areas, meaning that surrounding rental properties were cheaper. Very few people will be able to rent an affordable house in Tāmaki once this project is completed, particularly if landlords continue to capitalise on the increasing land values in the area.

As for the argument that “mixed-tenure communities” will provide better access to resources for the poor and solve the social problems facing unevenly developed communities. Most of the international research suggests that this new urban planning logic does the complete opposite. The logic of social mixing is built on classist ideas of middle-class neighbours teaching the poor how to behave and providing aspiration for mobility. This is a logic which ignores the economic processes which occur when capital moves into low-income communities, processes which lead to displacement and social cleansing.

Developers in Tāmaki have to build a certain proportion of social and affordable houses as part of the deal of buying and accessing cheap public land. Their main goal, however, is to profit from speculating on land value increases. While the TRC have promised tenants that they can remain in the area, this was a reluctant concession following years of community resistance, and does not account for other forms of eviction through the Social Housing Reform Programme (SHRP) which begun in 2013.

The establishment of a social housing market by means of transferring state housing to Community Housing Providers (CHPs) is occurring under the rhetoric of efficiency. Tāmaki Regeneration, a company set up to regenerate and redevelop Tāmaki, is now one of these new ‘social’ landlords, given 2,800 households to manage. As part of the company Tāmaki Housing Limited Partnership manage the tenancies, and Tāmaki Regeneration Limited are in charge of redevelopment. The Government will argue that this is not privatisation as the TRC is currently owned by the New Zealand Government (29.5% Bill English, 29.5% Nick Smith) and Auckland Council (41%). The TRC, however, was set up in the interim period to manage the properties and the tenancies. Soon, however, the tenancies will be transferred to various different social housing providers and the land will eventually be sold to developers and investors to build the mixed tenure housing.

If we look to the UK, this process of transferring management of public housing stock to private organisations lead in many cases to privatisation. Without sufficient subsidies to support management of properties, private developers are the only organisations that can withstand the costs. The Salvation Army have already backed down from taking on state housing stock for this very reason. The most concerning issue here is the foreshadowing of large scale privatisation in which the private market is held as the sole supplier of the basic human right to housing.

While we are promised to reap the benefits and efficiencies of privatisation, history has shown that the private market does not provide affordable and secure housing for the working class and unemployed. Housing is a right, and an essential material need. To sell it off to private developers or transfer it to private housing providers is to commodify something that should be for living. When Niki is standing up against the redevelopment of her home, she is standing up against the economic processes by which capital dispossesses the poor for the profit of the rich. We need to resist the narratives of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor, and fight for the right of all to affordable, secure and public housing. We need to unite to dispel the myths of regeneration and to fight the historical and continual dispossession of people by capital. We need to stand with Niki, because she is standing for you.

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Migrants are welcome – Leftist xenophobia is not

refugees-migrants-welcome-here

By Daphne Lawless

When I was a young Alliance activist in Wellington in the 1990s, I knew Frank Macskasy well as a staunch colleague in the fight against the neoliberal assault on workers. It’s very sad to see him now promoting the xenophobic agenda of Martyn Bradbury’s The Daily Blog, known as the “Breitbart of the NZ Left”.

TDB is part of the current which I’ve called the “conservative left” – those activists who have taken a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude to the rise of Right-wing populism worldwide, including the Brexit movement in Britain and the Trump movement in the US. I’ve argued that many activists, having spent so long fighting neoliberal globalization, have ended up in a position where they think that anything neoliberals want must be bad. Most unfortunately – in the NZ context – this has turned into a belief that since neoliberals want more immigration, the Left should want less.

Frank’s TDB post harps on the idea that the National government is encouraging immigration as an easy way to “artificially stimulate the economy” (an argument heard recently out of the mouth of New Zealand’s master of xenophobic politics, Winston Peters). The first obvious question should be: if it were that simple to grow the economy, what would be wrong with it? What is wrong in principle to allow anyone willing to come here, work hard and be part of our community to do so? In particular, no Pākehā New Zealander should have the bald-faced cheek to suggest that migration to this country should be treated with suspicion.

Frank skates over the contradiction between the idea that immigration “stimulates the economy” and the idea that it’s problematic “at a time when unemployment was still high.” A stimulated economy means more work available… right? Leaving aside this little problem, Frank goes on:

“The downside to high immigration has been to put strain on critical services such as roading and housing, and reduce demand for locally trained workers to fill vacancies. There is a downward pressure on wages, as cheaper immigrant-labour is brought into the workforce.”

Both Frank’s links go to NZ Herald articles. The first is a column concerning the last Budget, which contains the comment:

“The rise in net migration, on top of natural increases, is putting pressure on the health system, schools, housing and transport.”

I’ve underlined the bit that Frank seems to have missed out. The issue is that population growth is putting pressure on our infrastructure. In Auckland in particular – despite the scare stories from the xenophobic Left and Right – “natural increase” (that is, people having babies and not dying) is a significantly greater contribution to population growth than migration. So where is Frank’s worry about that section of population growth? Why is he not calling for a Chinese-style one-child policy, if the issue is really just about “more people” – rather than the murkier issue of “more people not born here”?

Frank’s second link goes to a report on advice given by Treasury – not generally considered a reliable source of good economic advice by Leftists (except when it confirms their prejudices?) There is of course a real problem with cheap migrant labour. But it’s nothing to do with “New Zealanders being priced out of low-waged jobs”. Firstly, just like it’s always been in this country, migrants tend to do the low-status jobs that New Zealanders don’t want to do – fast food workers or security guards, who might be qualified professionals in their own country, can tell you about that. Secondly, the reason migrant labour is cheap is because of employers cheating the system. We’re talking about migrants having their passports confiscated, and forced either into virtual slave labour, or work of a kind they never wanted to do (such as sex work).

These are real problems. But they are not problems caused by migration. It is caused by migrant workers not getting a fair shake on the basis as all other workers in this country. Get rid of the incentive for human trafficking provided by the current immigration scheme – by giving all those who want to work here the legal right to do so, cracking down on unfair labour practices, and encouraging migrant workers to join unions and fight alongside all other workers for their rights.

Frank and his colleagues at TDB are irresponsibly stoking the forces of racism and xenophobia in this country. Some may be doing so out of nostalgia for a simpler, less culturally diverse New Zealand of the pre-neoliberal era. Some may be doing so out of cynical calculation that migrant-bashing is a way to defeat the hated National government. But it’s a slowly growing sickness on the Left in New Zealand. The Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign has been set up by socialists, unionists and migrant communities who want to stand up and say unashamedly that we are pro-immigration, and pro-worker, and we can’t allow the conservative left to speak for the rest of us.

Pasefika Issue: The Unbearable Lightness

Poem by Faith Wilson. Also published in Fightback’s special Pasefika magazine issue.

My mum will always lose your mama jokes

cos they’re true. Your mama’s so poor

she mixed tomato sauce with water and pretended it was soup.

Your mama’s family so broke they break

into neighbours houses but they don’t steal

TVs and radios they steal food.

Your mama’s so damn poor that 11

people live in their tiny Tokoroa state

house and they didn’t get a car til she was 14.

My Papa, worked long hours at Kinleith

that made his heart and brain think

that happiness is just pulp fiction. He milled

paper but he didn’t make any and he died

of a brain tumour the size of eight

kids and a mortgage yet they will call

his labour unskilled. This ain’t a show

without punch I’m just telling you to go to Tok

and feel the poverty and try tell me that it comes down to

‘just get off your arse and get a job’.

But my mama’s different cos she got out of there.

Ooooh gumma mumma! Yeah my mama’s so smart

she married a white man built a house from wood.

My daddy’s so smart he sent us to a white school

and we suffered cultural dislocation but as long

as we’re educated it shouldn’t matter, right?

And now I’m so smart because I got so much

debt but some o dat paper

that says I can write about it.

And I’m so smart because I finally figured

out irony even if I’m a generation too late

so my understanding is more like a self-discovery.

O! If only breaking the cycle were as easy

as an existential crisis or the flip of a coin

or as smooth as a crisp bill rolling out of an ATM.

Because you care about breaking the cycle.

You care about poverty eh?

You care about what I’m saying.

But I don’t care about you.

And this writing isn’t for you.

And you, you will continue to care

in the face of blatant rejection.

Give me a penny for my sorrows

and I’ll give you a burden to bear.

Pasefika Issue: Decolonisation unplugged – my meeting with West Papuans in Indonesia

This article, by Shasha Ali, is also published in Fightback’s special Pasefika magazine issue.

This article is not easy to write. We live in a world with less than 8% of the global wealth distributed amongst the poorest, with indigenous women and children being predominant victim statistics of violent crimes and the impending crisis of climate change in the Pacific. Specifically for us in a post-TPPA signed Aotearoa New Zealand, it is clear that more than ever New Zealand as administered by the current Key government, is facing our own backyard crises from the most basic rights to clean water and shelter to widening income, access and opportunity disparities by gender, class and race.

So why should we care about West Papua?

This question resounded in my head when a rather random Facebook faceless-profile person from an Auckland-based Indonesian student cultural group messaged me during my shared postings of the West Papua campaign calling for peaceful demonstrations and observances to commemorate the Broken Promise of 15 August 1962, when the UN administered Dutch colonialists to hand over West Papua to Indonesia. The controversy remained as to whether a democratic voting process was fairly held with Indonesian government claiming they did things fair and square and a huge proportion of West Papuans who claim otherwise.

“You’re not even of Indonesian nationality,” this troll says to me in Bahasa. “ Why do you care so much about West Papua?”

Okay, obviously sophisticated notions of diaspora and cultural identity is not to be discussed here. In many activist spaces I can talk about identity from a longer memory, my longer Java-Malay tribal origins across Madura and Bandung whakapapa, my subjectivity as a tauiwi person in Aotearoa, and as an indigenous person deprived of her own indigeneity in her birth country of Singapura. However, that kind of talk will fall on deaf ears to people like this, because as long as I wasn’t born in Indonesia, apparently I’m not Indonesian enough to speak with any authority about Indonesia.

I try talking to him instead about Dutch colonialism, and how we can view Indonesia’s occupation of West Papua as a version of imperialism perpetrated by Indonesia. “Isn’t it enough that our forefathers and foremothers had to go through that? All the heroes we lost in the revolution for independence? Shouldn’t we try to make peace?” I typed out, attempting the most diplomatic version of my usually impatient, radical self.

Interestingly, the conversation halted. In the larger Facebook group where this thread began, 32 comments emerged very respectfully posted by a mix of Indonesian youth and mature postgraduate students in response to my call for solidarity for West Papua. There is consensus that this topic is a “very sensitive” issue, and that Indonesians would “kindly request” that I post instead a “legitimate mainstream media article” covering the situation on West Papua such as the Jakarta Post, as alternative and social media sources are “unreliable”.

At this point, I do not think it would make any difference for me to tell these 32 online commenters that when I was in Yogyakarta two weeks ago, I actually met with a young West Papuan who witnessed his uncle killed by the Indonesian military, and whose footage of his uncle being beheaded is in the end minutes of Run It Straight film. If the words and accounts of those who survive are not ‘legitimate’, then how exactly are we to dialogue further beyond the mediated catchphrase to ‘agree to disagree’.

It is promising to remember however that while I was in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, there were actual Indonesian activists, from Muslims, LBGT, women’s rights and human rights advocates who care and work in solidarity with West Papua freedom movements. You see, Yogyakarta has a very interesting and special history of being a state for thinkers, artists, academics and creatives of all kinds – from the traditional artisan to the contemporary. You can witness the city unravelling itself with its political graffiti art and tagging amidst short dwellings and rickshaw traffic, a type of punk attitude to life and society at large. The demographic is fairly youth-dominated with a huge student population and it is known to be historically the breeding ground for many famous artists, activists and left-leaning politicians.

But apparently 2016 is the year things started to look less than cool in Yogyakarta. I spent four days on a visitor internship at this non-profit social and environmental justice group called EngageMedia who told me they could not disclose their physical address to increase security since the Police attacks on LBTQ groups and West Papuans whom they support. I am so grateful to this organisation for without their support, none of what am about to share here would have happened. It started with a small morning tea for me to meet with the West Papuan student activists that were caught in the Police arrests in the city prior to my arrival.

That morning tea became an entire day spent until the late hours of evening! I met three young men, and two of their friends who somehow couldn’t make it (but was constantly on the phone saying they are on their way) to the office. Interestingly, they are more fluent in Bahasa Melayu (my first native tongue) than Bahasa Indonesia (the national language of Indonesia), and for a moment I felt immersed in a strange world of seeing them alike my cousins.

We watched the film “Run It Straight” directed by Tere Harrison, as a resourceful opening to introduce myself as an activist from Aotearoa New Zealand. Of course, luckily the EngageMedia facilitator realised that there was no subtitles so between her super-Bahasa skills and my average-Kiwinglish skills she amazingly translated and subtitled the entire film on their platform prior to the morning tea session!

I presented to them a ‘kia kaha’ pack of vegan-friendly peanut butter cookies, the tacky “New Zealand breakfast” tea set, music commemorating October 15th Raids in Aotearoa, and some West Papua Action Auckland-made stickers and flyers. They greeted me back with honour, “Wah Wah Wah” and video’ed the entire moment like it was to become history.

Our conversations were very fluid. These young men, postgraduate students in International Studies, Broadcasting and one doing a course in Agriculture, were highly competent in video advocacy and started showing me their footage from the demo, including how the Police arrested their fellow member Obby who was released on conditions, during the time of our meeting. “What exactly did Obby do that singled him out?” asked the EngageMedia group facilitator. The young men shook their head and said, “Same thing that we did – just walking to our campus.”

I watched how the Police pushed and tightened their hold on Obby, who was unarmed and was not resisting the arrest. Several people with cameras and mobile phones recorded the entire proceeding from different angles. Later I was told that two of the journalists there who were Indonesian, were also arrested.

We needed to make sense of this entire madness, and it was hopeful to know that these young activists are aware that this is only one of the many challenges they need to get used to if they were to continue their struggle for freedom and Independence for West Papua. I have to admit, it was so energizing to hear this. My heart fell so hard just thinking about the atrocities their families and relatives are facing back in West Papua land, while they are faced with racial abuse slurs, being called “monkeys”, “dogs” and “blacks”. However the worst deragatory remark they are currently trying to campaign against, is being called separatists.

“This is the new dirty word by Indonesian religious extremists and attackers,” says one of the activists Johnny. “This is the dangerous word that makes us look like we are trying to stir up trouble.”

While I listen to their stories, I interrupted and asked where the Papuan women at. The boys said, no no, they are part of the movement, there are quite a few of them, and Johnny suddenly remembered he forgot to ask two of them to come to this meeting, and started calling someone named Maria. Myself and the EngageMedia facilitator (both of us cis women) laughed at their sudden panic to remedy the situation.

Towards the end of the meeting, we finally got to meet Maria. She was quiet, shy and reserved at first and also tired, as she rushed to the meeting straight after work at a local cafe. I asked her what she was studying: English Literature, she responded. I felt so happy to hear of this, and she started telling me about her hopes to become a teacher and her passion for environmental issues as her hometown, a seaside village in West Papua has been deforested for palm oil industrialisation.

And then she told me, “You know when I was in West Papua, I was told I am Malay.”

I was confused. “What do you mean?”

“We have been brainwashed since birth to think we are Malay peoples, like Malaysians, like..”

“Like me?” I smiled.

“Yes,” she smiled back.

“It was only when I went to college here, that someone said you are West Papuan, that I suddenly realise, oh my god, I am West Papuan?”

That revelation to her, was heartbreaking for me to hear too. It brought me back to my own self-awakening, the memory-realisation that I am indigenous too , something I only truly confidently asserted, after being exposed to te Tiriti history and tino rangatiratanga movements in Aotearoa New Zealand.

I suppose in many ways, we are a family. An Asia-Pacific networked family of indigenous peoples in their own right. But in any family, our differences mark how we relate to each other and how we grow into our own being. We are brown, we share Austronesian roots, yes. That is a great source of potential for solidarity but it should not form zealousness to override our role as supporters for each other’s diverse histories, cultures and unique processes for self-determination. I think this is the bit that makes certain people forget why West Papua rightfully deserves their Independence from Indonesia. I also think this is why finding solutions for the West Papua-Indonesia divide, needs to emerge from a framework of restorative justice of sorts – this is about two colonized peoples, hurting socially, economically, politically and spiritually, through a long history of Western colonialism-white capitalism. The dialogue needs to be deeper than a black-and-white analysis of decolonisation that we are so used to applying, when situated in western settler nation-states like New Zealand.

We continue to bond, all of them keen to know more about Maori activism in New Zealand, and the other young men joined us to discuss future projects and activist solidarity actions that we can plan together on. Advocacy was a priority, and EngageMedia also informed of the funding challenges they face with international agencies. “Nobody wants to fund projects on West Papua,” the facilitator said. “They don’t mind Indonesia human rights stuff… but West Papua… no money…” she said, disheartened but hopeful that we should find a way to keep going and support these grassroots activists to organise their advocacy work sustainably with their own organisational status.

We exchanged contact details, had some food, took photos and promised to keep in touch, adding each other on Facebook instantly.

One of the key ideas we left with was setting up a youth/artist exchange programme where West Papuans can visit New Zealand and New Zealand indigenous youth can visit West Papua, to share experiences, build knowledge and explore strategies for movement/community building. Yes, the thought may already cause alarm bells about security risks for all, but we will need to look at ways to make this happen if this is what it takes to support their self-determination process. We imagine it will be a long term Asia-Pacific programme that will need the crucial involvement of the Pacific community. We can begin with awareness raising in our own home countries, increasing the profile of campaigning across all sections of society. And of course, we can make as many efforts to fundraise for projects that these amazing young Papuans need to do to strengthen their capacity for movement-building into their futures. As allies and supporters, I hope that is a promise that we can at least work to keep, while these courageous activists continue their inter-generational struggle against all odds, for the right to be free, independent and sovereign in their own nation.

Pasefika Issue: Untitled

This article is also published as a part of Fightback’s special Pasefika magazine issue.

When the first European ships travelled through the Pacific, their sails cut into the clouds of the skies. Papalagi, ‘cloud breaker’. In the lands of Samoa, our people prayed to these sailing gods, that they may not enter our shores. We prayed for them to pass us over, because they would bring death and disease. These papalagi would bring the death of our people and the death of our ways. And so it was foretold.

A couple hundred years later, we live across the world, within and away from the homeland – our languages, our systems, lost and polluted. We no longer need well-meaning missionaries to instill shame in our people. It is built into society. The savagery and simplicity of the ignorant, the illogical, the delusional, the uneducated heathen. This image, this idea is sewn into every institution, every system, every tool and every product of colonisation. As we come to confront the great power that is colonisation, we need to understand that it is a process. A process that has spanned countless generations, a process that we often blind ourselves to in our struggle to overcome its institutions. Without recognising and holding ourselves accountable for the ways in which we participate in the colonisation of tangata whenua, we cannot begin to overcome or deconstruct colonisation – we can only change our roles and relationships within the model of oppression. And so, because we all have a role in this system, we must first understand two things: first, the goal of colonisation (of any form), and second, the accountability of we, the settlers.

We have all, at some stage, lived in complicity. We have all participated and harboured attitudes and behaviours that continue and uphold the colonisation of tangata whenua. We are made aware of our own oppression, and the forced assimilation of our communities instills a very specific anger. We learn, through institutions of the coloniser, about our oppression. Hurt, we come to blame his systems for withholding what we should be entitled to. While fighting him, we employ his methodologies, prioritise his systems, his frameworks – and still carry with us, the image of the uneducated savage. This is how the process works. These ideas, attitudes, behaviours, value systems – this culture of complacency, complicity and removal of accountability (sometimes referred to as ‘settler colonialism’) becomes natural to us, because we, like the missionaries, have found bibles in academia. We have been enlightened, we are the product of advancement. We understand and will bring to pass the greater good. We refuse to ‘look back’ because we think they are gone. They do not exist anymore. Assimilation succeeds, colonisation prevails because his knowledge is higher than the savage’s.

Whether we do this to survive, whether we do it to maintain the comforts settlership offers us, our assimilation brings us in closer proximity to the coloniser. We may not have the power he has over us, but our willingness to compromise the welfare of indigenous people and systems places us in his role. We are his products, we are his tools. But, we get to choose. All things are imposed on us, but once we are made aware, we must understand that an ability to choose our attitudes, our behaviours means we can choose to resist white culture. We can decentre white structures and cultures, prioritising the knowledges and systems of indigenous peoples. We can also choose accountability. Our belonging to oppressed communities does not remove our ability to oppress. Convincing ourselves otherwise is an attempt to distance ourselves from the nasty connotation of ‘oppressor’, from accountability.

fa’apalagi. In the way of the palagi. In the way of the cloud breaker. In the way of the white man. whiteness.

In the context of stolen land and settled colonisers, whiteness pertains to the adoption of the colonisers’ worldview. In the context of colonised indigeneity, white is the other. The other is white. fa’apalagi. Culture is complex, but what is very simple is that we choose the ways in which we fight or uphold colonisation. When we are made aware of our assimilation, our internalised whiteness, we have a choice to make. What we choose is up to us, but we must be honest about it. Because when you claim to fight against racism, against colonisation, while refusing to hold yourself and your white colonial ideologies accountable, you are manipulating the oppressed. You offer false notions of trust and solidarity, placing these ideas in the hearts of the vulnerable, whose power and mana have been taken from them. They will entrust you with their hearts, their souls, their spirits and your dishonest solidarity will break them. Your dismissal of accountability will shield you from critique, from reflection and you will never know, simply because you do not care, that you will replace the well-intentioned, unaccountable coloniser – you will become the missionary who violated and destroyed the mana of the people. The arrogance of whiteness, of colonisation, lies in the fundamental belief that your white frameworks and methodologies can more successfully overcome colonisation than systems that predate it.

In the beginning, there was the word.

And the word was with We, the Settlers.

An uncomfortable conversation: Greens still wrong about immigration

justice-for-migrant-workers

‘Justice for Migrant Workers’ protest.

Article by Ben Peterson, originally published on leftwin.org.

The Greens new interpretation of their immigration policy has generated a lot of discussion on the left, both on this blog and elsewhere. James Shaw’s comments committing the Greens to halve immigration numbers have been controversial. In response, immigration spokesperson Denise Roche has offered a defense of Shaw’s comments saying that “The Green kaupapa on immigration is focused on people.”

I respect the work that the Greens have done to support international students and exploited foreign workers. And I respect the Greens when they say “we need to be able to talk about political issues that people care about, even when they make us uncomfortable.” Bring on the uncomfortable conversations!

Unfortunately, the discomfort isn’t leftists sticking to abstract principles. The reaction is caused by Greens new policy discussion being based on untruths.

“Issues people care about”

Roche’s article says that “We need to talk about immigration because failing to do so means that we let that conversation be dominated by fear, intolerance and misinformation.”

True. Progressives should be entering this debate, but lets not overstate its importance. Immigration is not the chief concern of Kiwis. Many times more people are primarily concerned by housing, wages and inequality than immigration. By dipping into immigration debates so publicly the greens have already failed to keep focused on the primary concerns of ordinary people and are turning to a small minority.

This is problematic in itself, but the issues go deeper. Rather than challenging the fear, intolerance and misinformation the Greens are reinforcing it. Instead of challenging xenophobic myths, Roche’s article accepts them.

“It is obvious that there are not enough houses in Auckland.”

Actually that’s not true. There are tens of thousands of empty homes in Auckland. The problem isn’t necessarily that there’s no options, its’ that investors are pricing many out of the homes that do exist.

“We need to build up houses, public transport, schools and hospitals to a level where they are a good fit for the population. After eight years of National’s dismal under-investment, there is a lot of catching up to do.”

I agree. Why are we talking about these problems and immigration in the same sentence? The selloff of public housing, and the degradation of public infrastructure go back to the neoliberal reforms of the 80’s. The trend of falling homeownership and rising housing costs likewise go back decades. When you know these are decades long trends, and only 5 years ago there was a net migration loss, why on earth would migration and infrastructure be part of the same conversation.

Put simply- It is an untruth to put the blame for these long term trends onto migrants.

The Greens are should know better than this- and trying to say they’ll cut immigration because of housing, but also saying housing is the governments fault, confuses the conversation.

Greens message makes no sense.

So Roche rightfully says “Immigration is – categorically – not to blame for these issues…
Bad Government planning is to blame.”

If immigration isn’t a social problem, why the new announcements saying the Greens are for a dramatic reduction? If immigration is going to be dramatically reduced, how do the Greens honour their commitment to raise the refugee quota, raise the family reunion quota and open up pathways for work visa holders to gain residency?

If immigrants don’t drive the housing crisis, why are the Greens bringing it up as a justification for dramatic immigration cuts?

Instead of providing a clear progressive alternative, the Greens position seems confused. A series of contradictory angles doesn’t challenge xenophobia, it fails to provide a coherent alternative..

A progressive alternative

Building a progressive political alternative is critically important and there has never been a better time to do so. The issues of most concerns to Kiwi’s is inequality, and the political mainstream has no answers on how to address this issue.

A progressive alternative has to provide clear answers on housing, infrastructure and inequality. A progressive alternative on immigration has to be clear and unequivocal- immigrants are not the drivers of the housing crisis or the reduction in work conditions.

This conversation on immigration should be uncomfortable. But this ‘uncomfortable’ conversation is not that we need to confront the gap between realpolitik and progressive principles. The uncomfortable fact is that some of our friends are suggesting that we accept and accommodate popular myths that are untrue.

That’s unacceptable, and we should expect more from the Greens.

Comments welcome below.

Leftwin seeks to host a discussion on building a new left politics in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
Be part of that disscussion here 

Pasefika Issue: In/Visible

This article is also published as part of Fightback’s special Pasefika Fightback magazine issue. Article by Luisa Tora, luisa.k.tora@gmail.com.

I’ve been asked to discuss why the visibility of the Pacific lesbian community is important to me, and why I think this community is invisible. I’ve also been invited to speak about an exhibition that I am co-curating of emerging artists who identify as lesbian, bisexual, and queer. I feel it’s important to include the brief given me as I believe that sometimes questions inform us as much as the answers we receive. This is not in way intended to shame the person who asked me the questions. I appreciate this opportunity to unpack some of the themes and issues surrounding Pacific lesbian visibility.

I’d like to start the talanoa by placing some limitations on the discussion. Not to censor the talanoa so much as to sharpen its focus. I can only speak to my experience as 42-year old Fijian woman who has lived in Aotearoa for the last seven years.

I came out when I was a precocious 17 years old Foundation student at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji. Even though I dived headfirst into my new lifestyle with my newly acquired girlfriend, I didn’t come out to my parents until almost two years later. It was my Mum who coaxed it out of me saying that she and Dad would love me whatever my sexuality was. My then girlfriend lived with us and our families were friends. Three decades later I can’t remember why 17 year old me didn’t just tell my parents. Perhaps I was afraid. Perhaps I thought it was obvious. Perhaps I thought it wasn’t anybody’s business. Perhaps I was just a self-centred 17 year old and it didn’t occur to me that I had to ‘come out’ to anyone.

Whatever the reason, I was out and my family and friends totally ran with it. My parents have invited scores of queer friends into our family home and their hearts. I’ve spoken on occasion about having a gay army in Fiji. We’re everywhere. I didn’t really think about it until I came to Aotearoa and had to start from scratch. (My sister and I were heartened to see these same people at both my parent’s funerals.) When my sister came out, they invited her girlfriend(s) and friends home. I remember my parents and I going to a girlfriend’s home once for a party. Mum told me later that she and Dad had a heart-to-heart with my girlfriend’s parents about their only daughter’s sexuality. She told them “You either love her as she is or you will lose her. It’s your choice.” I remember going to a drag night with a girlfriend and my Dad another time. My usually stoic father (unless you got to know him) told a homophobic heckler, “We’re here to enjoy ourselves. If you don’t like it you can leave.” Mum would introduce me and my girlfriend to new people – This is my daughter, and this is her partner – and embarrass us no end. My extended families on Mum and Dad’s sides also embraced mine and my sister’s lifestyles and girlfriends. When we both started volunteering then working with non-government organisations, our extended NGO family embraced us and the LGBTQI+ issues that we championed.

I share this brief insight to start to answer the first question about why Pacific lesbian visibility is important to me. My sister and I were blessed with a supportive family, social, and professional environment. Thanks to our parents, families, and friends, we were able to live open lives at home and to carry the confidence that comes with that grounding outside our home.

However, that sentence is not accompanied by a video clip of goat kids frolicking in a sun-splashed meadow as birds chirp in the sky as we eat mangoes and cast beatific smiles at people walking by. There’ve been some horrific break-ups and broken hearts, and girlfriends’ families haven’t always receptive to the idea of having a daughter-in-law instead of a son-in-law. Friends have been bashed and raped by male family members to remind them of their ‘place’ as women. Gay male and transgender friends and acquaintances have been murdered by homophobes. We’ve had to defend our constitutionally protected LGBTQI+ rights in the media, before parliamentary committees, in the international arena against an array of adroit Fiji governments playing political football. We’ve been kicked off and excluded from national HIV committees and called dissidents. All of this happened between and during cyclones, coup d’états, and so many poetry readings.

All the reasons above and more are why the visibility of the Pacific lesbian community is important to me. The love you find in relationships with lovers and family, the support and laughter and shoulders to cry on and lean on that comes from your community and those who support you, the role models and crushes that we make for those who are closeted or curious to pass on the street or read about in the newspaper, the good, the bad and the ugly poetry we write and inspire, just so you can say ‘cheers queers!’ at a party, not having to explain why you like girls or why you only like girls who wear fades and cable knit sweaters or girls who wear glasses and can’t look you in the eye, being able to speak about your own culture to someone ‘like you’ in your own language or bits of your own language, seeing someone from your own culture at a lesbian party even if you spend the rest of the night avoiding each other, because it’s nice knowing you aren’t literally the only gay in the village.

I think about why lesbian Pacific islanders aren’t more visible around Auckland. I’m not the most social person, but I try to be conscious of the people around me when I am outside. Also, I live in South Auckland so the chances of me seeing Pacific anything is much higher in my neighbourhood. But still, we are few and far between. Or we are really good at blending in? Which begs the question: what does a Pacific lesbian look like anyway? I once read a paper about migrant lesbians who live with their families in the diaspora and how their sexuality is subverted by their dependence on their families for family, immigration, financial, and language support. Many women either decided to conceal their sexuality or did so under threat of being ostracised or being sent ‘home’ if they didn’t conform to heterosexual norms. The struggle is real for ethnic minorities who are also sexual minorities living in the diaspora.

This in a small way brings me back to the question or the framing of this conversation. My experience aside for now, is it necessary for people to come out or to be visible? Is the lesbian experience enough? Do we need to be visibly and audibly lesbian? I am intrigued and a little disturbed by pressure from some LGBTQI+ circles for people to ‘come out’ as well as shaming people who don’t or can’t come out and therefore live life on the DL. If some of us are happy to stick our necks out, does this somehow make up for those who draw theirs into their shells?

Which brings me to the exhibition I’ve developed with Molly Rangiwai-McHale and Ana Te Whaiti featuring artists Tasi Su’a, Jamie Berry, Sangeeta Singh, Emma Kotsapas, and Kerrie-Anne Van Heerden. The exhibition statement states: “‘When Can I See You Again?’ offers a public invitation into a private, contemplative space. This multimedia, multicultural, and multi-regional exhibition of emerging artists explores female sexualities, desire, power, and safe spaces. This collectively curated gathering is an attempt to build what bell hooks calls “a community of resistance”1. A “central location for the production of a counter-hegemonic discourse that is not just found in words but in habits of being and the way one lives” (206).

Women’s voices and bodies are privileged and amplified in new works created by Ana Te Whaiti, Emma Kotsapas, Jamie Berry, Kerrie Van Heerden, Luisa Tora, Molly Rangiwai-McHale, Sangeeta Singh, and Tasi Su’a. ‘When Can I See You Again?’ is strategically aligned with Auckland Pride Festival 2017.

‘Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness’ from Yearnings: Race, Gender and Cultural Politics (Routledge, 1989).”

To bring it back to the talanoa before, another aim of this show is to ‘build our own archive’ as discussed by Dr Teresia Teaiwa. If you are missing from the narrative, write your own then share it with others. If you are missing from the landscape, insert yourself into it. I am reminded of a young woman I met once when I was neck-deep in the LGBTQI+ lobby in Fiji. She quietly introduced herself and told me that she’d read an interview I’d done in the local media. She said it was the first time she’d seen the word lesbian discussed in a positive way in the newspaper. We hope that this show will provoke some interesting dialogue about all things lesbians. I would be happy if a quietly lesbian woman of any ethnic descent inputted gay woman/lesbian/queer/LGBTQI in Aotearoa/New Zealand into a search engine and quickly pressed enter – and then she found us. Kia kaha!

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Pasefika Issue: Half Cast Away

This article is also published in Fightback’s special Pasefika magazine issue.

When I think back to my childhood, I am a Mowgli-like child sitting crossed legged in my Uncle’s living room. Second hand furniture surrounds me; a clutter of memories piled high in every corner of every room. My cousin’s 21st keys, family photos extending back to the Islands, dusty records and old radios. The room is a mixture of adult chatter, laughing Samoans, the smell of chop suey, corned beef, and roast chicken. My Nana sits atop her throne, the only comfortable chair in the house, laughing without her dentures in. She, a 4ft something Chinese/Sāmoan woman, silver hair always tied in a bun, wearing a tree- bark brown mu’umu’u. She calls me over with a wave of her arm, speaking to me in a language I don’t understand. She sizes me up, pinches my tummy and cheeks, says something in Sāmoan, laughs and kisses my baby face. I laugh with her, because it is polite, because she’s given me a cue. She nods at me and I take it as a sign to leave now, her cheeky smile watching as I run off to play with my cousins. This interaction happens every time we meet; she speaks and I do not understand. I laugh and she laughs, then she nods for me to leave.

Only now am I realizing the vastness of the space that was between us. The disconnect between two bodies of water, like she must have felt venturing to Aotearoa. Scooped her five kids under her arms and rowed to white shores for a better life. At 10 years old my Nana passed away, taking with her the Sunday lunches at Uncle’s house, the language so effortlessly spoken, and the best source of finding out where I come from. My mama tries to remember, but was too young to recall the villages, or the names of the people that might serve as a compass. She, a 5ft Chinese/Sāmoan woman, breathes compassion and fire. Her long, straw like black hair frames her gentle coconut skin. She married a white man and spent 25 years trying to abolish the myth that his family held about the brownness of our skin. Buried her culture in the barrels of their loaded shame, trigger tongues sit upon ivory towers. Made my mama ‘prove’ herself, whatever that means. It looked like a forgotten language and the trimming of branches, cutting limbs off in order to grow new ones. Her body, a patchwork of pride and shame stitched together by the taro leaves she tried to outgrow.

My parents’ marriage died the same year my Nana did. I ended up being raised by my father, who spat poison back at the Pacific, damned us all. So as I grew, my culture became strangely foreign land. Hidden behind shame, a spitting image of my mother. Always too white for the brown kids and too brown for the white kids. Our legs were planted in taro patches and everything that helps the plants grow. Only to be uprooted and forced to watch as the fields went up in flames. Burning the landscape of my Nana’s eyes, and all she called home. I refused the stars when they tried to lead me back, told them I don’t know where I belong. Forever searching for a safe place to lace my work boots.

My mama says I got warrior’s blood in my veins, but I’m just a worrier these days. It’s funny how it all comes 360, now I’m ashamed of that which I do not know. I couldn’t tell you anything my Nana said. I could not. Tell you. Anything my Nana said. My village stokes the fire to light my way home, laying out blankets of food, and sweeping the fale in wait of my adventurer feet. I still can’t see that welcome mat. I could not read any signposts leading back. Every year that passes, those stars seem further away to navigate, almost an impossible feat. Standing at the base of a mountain trying to will myself up. When the debris falls and the dust clears, what will be left? A silly boy who never seized the opportunity to go home? Who never sat at his Nana’s feet long enough to hear her speak? I have learned that it is no good to sit at a table offering no food to eat. Saying grace through a lazy English tongue. Cut it out so I can start again. Let me lash back at the forgotten war crimes waged on the bodies of my grandmothers. Let me sew my language to the roots of my spine. Let me learn the stars through my mama’s outstretched palms. She’ll smile and tell me, you belong here, little one, and whatever you are is enough.

Pacific Panthers and International Solidarity: An interview with Teanau Tuiono

Fightback sat down with educator and Pacific Panther Teanau Tuiono to discuss his experiences, and lessons, as a political activist.


How has your whakapapa factored into your political work?

I had a bicultural upbringing. On the one hand I’m a first generation pacific islander in Aotearoa: my family migrated here from the islands for work and educational opportunities. I am also tangata whenua from Ngāi Takato and Ngāpuhi with connections throughout the Tai Tokerau including Ngati Hine.

Within our own communities we are the norm. We have our languages and our cultures. But I am acutely aware that I am from two minorities. So I’m quite used to comparing the differences and similarities between the two cultural groups that I come from. Moving between them is something I’ve done my whole life. People who are both Pasifika and Māori will know what I am talking about. Navigating how you interact with the majority culture is something that you must learn as a minority. My grandfather would tell me stories about when he first came to NZ, and how tricky it was because he could not speak English well.

Sometimes when you are a minority you try and find the corners and the cracks to hide. It’s the whole idea of the Other, something Edward Said talks about. Othering in colonialism is habitual between marginalised peoples and colonisers. The Other is seen as inferior and in need of “educating or saving”. Colonisation seen through that lens is benign, as opposed to being incredibly violent to indigenous peoples. This is something that Gramsci also touches on when he talked about cultural hegemony.

 

What have you learnt from the experience of the Polynesian Panthers, and what is new about this project? Tell us about the Pacific Panthers.

The Polynesian Panthers are an inspiration, particularly for us NZ Born Pacific Islanders. Staunch Islanders with leathers and afros – standing up for our communities. I fucken love that shit. Their political activism, running of food co-ops and homework centres, advocating for tenants and promoting Pacific languages are things to continue to aspire too. I was a kid during the Springbok tour protests of 1981 and I lived in the inner city Auckland. The polynesian panthers were active in those protests in the patu squad challenging both the racism of the apartheid regime of south africa and the racist NZ muldoon government.  In those days the inner city suburbs like Grey Lynn and Ponsonby was full of immigrants and minorities it was alive and bustling with diversity. These days it has gone completely to the dogs and is full of rich white yuppies sipping on $20 lattes. The Pacific Panthers came out of a fono we had out of Palmerston North it was to learn about the past struggles and look at how we can move at Pacific peoples in our activism.


The Polynesian Panthers drew inspiration from the Black Panthers in the US. How do you think the interface works between international inspiration and local adaptation?

 

I can’t speak for the Polynesian Panthers and I was a child during that time period. I imagine that they saw themselves in that struggle. Poor brown kids getting kicked around by the government – much as it is here. For myself most of my activism has come from meeting the people themselves either while travelling or being with them in their homelands and learning from them directly. I guess you can learn a lot of this stuff from books but you can’t pick up every nuance, the smell and feel of a place or the hospitality of people if you go there and meet them. The interface then is when you see yourself in each other’s struggles – not the appropriation of other people’s struggles – because that’s just going to piss someone off sooner or later, but rather a genuine recognition of mutual solidarity and respect.


You are a climate change activist. What is the intersection of ecological violence and colonial violence in the Pacific?

 

I don’t think there is an intersection as such – it’s the same bunch of wankers really. People may remember news headlines from last year that focused attention on Ioane Teitiota, a self-identified climate change refugee. Teitiota was imprisoned in Aotearoa, where he had sought refugee status after fleeing his home on Kiribati.  

 

As a part of the Cook Islands diaspora living in Aotearoa I am acutely aware that the borders separating the Cook Islands from Kiribati are a part of New Zealand’s colonial history in the region. Teitiota’s ability to stay or not stay in the country is dependent upon who drew the colonial borders around our Pacific nations. The government ultimately deported Teitiota back to Kiribati. The question of movement of peoples is also a question of decolonisation. Our assertion of our whakapapa (that is our connections with each other) and the need to dismantle the borders and barriers that separate us. We need to understand why those colonial lines have been drawn and at the same time erase them.


Can you tell us about your time in Cuba? What did you learn during your visit?

This was 20 years ago so the memory is a bit fuzzy. I had just finished uni. I had been staying with First Nations people just North of Albuquerque. I made my way down to Texas and walked into Mexico. I remember crossing the border over the Rio Grande which was more concrete and barbwires than river – and there was a massive mural of Che Guevara painted facing the American side with some anti-imperialist slogan. I figured I was going the right way. I made my way down to Mexico City met up with Communist comrades from Aotearoa and we flew into Havana. At that time Cuba had just come out of the special period – the Berlin wall had fallen just 7 years or so before and with the collapse of the Soviet Union – Cuba’s dependant economy collapsed with the US embargo still in place since the revolution they had to be heavily self-reliant particularly with nothing coming in and out of the country in terms of imports and exports. I had a job one day straightening nails because they had to reuse them – no hardware store up the road where you could buy straight nails. They also had all these old classic cars still running on the roads – no one makes parts for them so every time something broke you had to find someway to fix it. The people I met were proud of who they were, hardworking. I learnt about their struggle, drank rum, and smoked cigars with all the other politicos I met there. They took us up to Sierra Maestra mountains where they based the revolution in its early years – the rich history of the place is something to be appreciated.  One of the most interesting conversations I remember was with a Cuban diplomat, Miguel Alfonso Martinez, he heard that I was a Māori and was interested in the Treaty of Waitangi – all the way in the Caribbean and we were talking about Waitangi. Cool. He talked about ‘the old man’ Che Guevara. His boss when he was younger was Che Guevara. It was 2 years or less after NAFTA and the Zapatista uprising. He said the British used to talk a century or so ago about the ‘Freedom of the Seas’ and that’s because they had the biggest navy,  same thing with trade. Those that push ‘Free Trade’ or advocate for some freedoms over other types of freedoms do so in line with their power interests.

I bumped into him years later in Geneva at a UN meeting. At the United Nations he was a founding member of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations. He wrote an influential document called the “Study on treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements between states and indigenous populations.”

 

 

 

How does capitalism impact on Pacific communities?

Well when I lived in the Islands for a short time as a child – I went there after the Springbok Tour – it was an agricultural economy – plantations that sort of thing. We’d go to school and then work in gardens after the disaster that was the 4th NZ Labour Government – the relationship with agricultural goods disappeared. Suddenly the Cook Islands had to change into a tourist industry. The impact on our communities both here and back in the Islands are dictated by the whims of the white settler states of NZ and Australia. I hate that shit.


Green Vomit and statistical nonsense: the lies you hear about immigration and the Auckland housing crisis

hanson-farage-trump

Uncomfortable bedfellows: NZ Greens’ James Shaw joins Pauline Hanson (Australia), Michael Gove (UK) and Donald Trump (US) in an international trend of xenophobic scapegoating.

 

Article by Tim Leadbeater. Reprinted from the International Socialist Organisation (Aotearoa/NZ).

A few days ago the Labour party announced a new policy of increasing police numbers by 1000. I groaned at this news but it didn’t really surprise me. Then yesterday I heard of the new Greens policy on immigration, with James Shaw calling for a drastic reduction in numbers. Is New Zealand First calling the shots here, aided and encouraged by a compliant and uncritical media happy to jump on the anti-immigrant bandwagon? The Greens and Labour will almost certainly need the support of NZF to form a government next year, and Winston really just hates those hippy-dippy lentil munching do gooders. James Shaw knows this, yet needs to send a very clear signal to Peters that the Greens are willing to compromise. Immigration is a hot topic, and Shaw can easily frame the issue in terms of “sustainablitity” and “infrastructure”. No need for racist dog-whistles or Chinese sounding surnames, this is Sensible and Practical Greens policy, easily digested by sensitive liberals turned off by the crude nationalistic appeals of NZF.

“We think that the country needs a more sustainable immigration policy, so what we’d do is set a variable approvals target based on a percentage of the overall population. That would be at about 1 percent of the population, which is historically how fast New Zealand’s population has grown.”

Mr Shaw says the policy would even out peaks and troughs in annual migration numbers.

“You’ve also got to cater for changes in infrastructure, and because our population has historically grown at about 1 percent the country is set up to absorb that,” he says.

“Suddenly double that number, and you’ve got a problem like we’ve got at the moment, where you actually can’t meet the demand.”

Hmmmm. Sounds sensible enough. It’s not that we are racist or anything mean and horrible like that, it is just that we have looked at it very carefully and the numbers just don’t add up. One percent is all that the infrastructure can handle – just look at the housing crisis for proof, even if we wanted to we just couldn’t build enough new houses that fast. The government isn’t switched on like we are, they are letting in huge numbers and now people are sleeping in their cars! Etc, etc.

Curious about this one percent growth claim, I searched for the population data on Statistics New Zealand and came up with this graph:

population-graph

It is sort of true that the New Zealand population has grown at around 1% per year, as you can see for the period from the 1990s up to 2015, the line fluctuates above and below 1%. If you were a statistician paid by Winston Peters you could cut the time period to 1980 and onwards, and very easily draw a steadily increasing trendline through the periodic peaks and troughs. Look! The line is going up, we don’t have enough houses! The line must be flat, we must flatten the line! One percent is an absolute maximum!

The really strange and scary thing is to consider just how New Zealand survived throughout those extreme and rabbit-warren like years after the second world war. Those baby boomers were just popping them out without any consideration for New Zealand’s fragile infrastructure, pushing 3% for a couple of years and then a period of about 20 years with that line well in the red zone (and it was so sudden! How did they cope?). Then there was that period in the late 60s and early 70s when the line went into the 2% Danger Zone for about 3 years. Those damn hippies, what were they thinking?

Cheering for the Greens new anti-immigrant stance, Martyn Bradbury from the Daily Blog conjures conjures up some even more gratuitously false statistics to make the case:

Here is the grim truth about our current immigration settings. It’s not the 70,000-90,000 who become permanent residents that we need to be concerned about and it’s not their families joining them that we need to be worried with either, the real problem is our scam work/study visa scheme that sees 250 000 desperate students coming to NZ for bullshit ‘education’ programs that end up as bonded servitude with exploitative employers who hold onto their passports.

These 250 000 work hard jobs, many on less than minimum wage and pay tens of thousands for education schemes that are glorified english courses all for the promise of becoming permanent  residents.

A quarter of a million students paying tens of thousands of dollars to learn English, and getting exploited at the same time by ruthless bosses! And all of them putting massive stress on our infrastructure! They’ll never ever go back to where they came from because their bosses have stolen their passports!! We’ll be doing the country a favour as well as fighting for worker’s rights if we just stop them staying here! A double whammy:

We need to stop exploiting these people and stop promising them permanent residence via education. If they wish to come here for education, fine, that’;s their decision, but putting in place the pathway from education or employment to residency is exploitative and creating huge pressures on an infrastructure that can’t take anymore.

When I first read this blog I was struck by the twisted moral “logic” of Bradbury’s anti-immigrant stance. Like James Shaw, he wants to save the ‘infrastructure’ from the hordes of foreigners swamping our fair land. But he wants to present this as simultaneously saving the immigrants from exploitative bosses. If only they knew how exploitative and nasty kiwi bosses were, they would never have come in the first place. (Working conditions in places like India, of course, being obviously superior). I started pondering the strange and only barely coherent motivations for this ‘argument’, then my head started to hurt so I gave up. What then struck me was Bradbury’s figures. Where on earth did he get that figure of 250,000 ‘desperate students’?

He links to another blog by Mike Treen, which states that “250,000 people are granted student or temporary work visas each year.”. There are no sources given for any of these numbers, so I dug around the Statistics New Zealand and MBIE sites for up to date data. Treen’s figure of 250,000 is most likely based on data for the 2014/2015 year, in which 84,856 international students were approved for New Zealand courses, and 170,814 people were granted a work visa.

Let’s start with the temporary work visas. It is difficult to know exactly how many of these people are or were international students. There are several categories of temporary visa, and a set of complex rules and regulations surrounding each category. I didn’t spend enough time on this problem to come up with an exact number, but I did take note of the clearly spelt out fact that the biggest single source country of those gaining temporary work visas was the UK. And the fact that the biggest visa category (61,404 people) was ‘Working Holiday Schemes’ (think backpackers). How many people were granted visas in the ‘Work to Study’ category? Exactly 13,688. There are other categories international students might have applied under, but this is the most obvious candidate.

How about those 84,856 international students? Again I didn’t dig long enough in the data to work out how many of these students worked, or intended to work after studying. Fairly obviously the 18% of them who were under 16 will not be working, which leaves us with 69,582 who might get part time work alongside their studies. There is no denying that for a significant chunk of these international students (and ex-students), exploitative and often illegal work practices are a major problem. But the numbers involved are nowhere near the idiotically false figure of 250,000 which Bradbury confidently puts forward without any reservations.

Are these just careless mistakes made a by blogger who thrives on the hot air of passing controversies, or is there something else going on here? I’m aware that Bradbury operates a blog rather than an academic journal, but the brazen sloppiness regarding statistics is surely a big issue. The internet allows you to check numbers very quickly and easily, so why not back up your statistics with actual sources?

There are definitely some impressive numbers out there which at first glance appear to back up the argument for cutting immigration. According to Statistics New Zealand, surely a source far more credible than Bradbury’s blog or Green Party press releases, Auckland’s population grew by a massive 2.9% in the 2014 – 2015 year. This growth accounted for over half of the population growth for the entire country. Alongside these facts it would not be a difficult task to present a series of familiar and undeniable truths about the problems with Auckland’s infrastructure: the housing crisis, inadequate public transport, congested roads and so on. Shortly after the release of this data in July 2015, there was a Stuff article with the headline “NZ migration boom nears 60,000 a year, as Indians and returning Kiwis flood in”. Like many other similarly hysterical media reports, immigration is presented as a major causal factor of the housing crisis. With almost no attention given in the mainstream media to alternative points of view which question this received wisdom, the truth of the claim ‘immigrants cause housing crisis’ has apparently become established through constant repetition. In this environment, it is possible to make outlandishly false statistical claims about immigration without stirring any controversy.

The most insightful piece I have read about this issue is Peter Nunns’ transport blog article ‘Why is Auckland Growing?’. Nunns points out that net migration is extremely volatile, being dependent on both the numbers of Aucklanders leaving for places such as Australia and the numbers of people coming in from overseas. Much more constant and statistically significant is the natural population increase due to Aucklanders having babies. If we can get past the hysteria of the 2015 figures and look at the past 24 years for a broader and more robust view of the situation, the statistics tell a different story: in 18 of those 24 years, natural increase was a bigger contributor to growth than net migration. The significance of this is that even if regulations on immigration were tightened considerably, overall long term population growth would be roughly the same as if the status quo rules remained. Nunns demonstrates this with a simulation comparing a projected Auckland population growth with a 50% reduction of net migration to one without such a reduction. His prediction is that by the year 2043, the 50% reduction version of Auckland would have a population of about 2.1 million, whereas the status quo Auckland would have a population of about 2.2 million. The conclusion he draws is that Auckland faces some major tasks around preparing its infrastructure for population growth, so it needs to do things like build more houses. Cutting immigration is simply not a solution.

I can’t resist another conclusion: none of this pedantic analysing of facts and figures really matters all that much. What does matter is all those times you get on board an Auckland train in the morning and there are no seats left, and you are surrounded by lots of Indian and Asian young people. When you get on the bus and have to listen to all those conversations in Chinese. Then you get off on Dominion Road and basically every sign is written in Chinese, and they don’t even bother translating them into English. All those bright and hard working Asian students who get most of the academic prizes in the secondary schools. These very pertinent experiences and anecdotes build on each other, so when you read the outlandish and ridiculous sentence “the real problem is our scam work/study visa scheme that sees 250 000 desperate students coming to NZ for bullshit ‘education’ programs that end up as bonded servitude with exploitative employers who hold onto their passportsyou don’t even blink, it just sounds about right.

As a socialist I am for internationalism, solidarity and a world without borders. In this article however I have restrained myself from using any of the perspectives, values or arguments which inform these positions. The mainstream left in New Zealand appears to be lacking in both statistical literacy and the spirit of the famous phrase ‘Workers of the World, Unite!’. If we can’t communicate to them the spirit of solidarity, the least we can do is point out their mathematical failure.