Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Can New Zealand ever walk its talk on Multiculturalism? Or is it just feel-good talk and a load of hot air?

Can New Zealand ever walk its talk on Multiculturalism? Or is it just feel-good talk and a load of hot air?

Thakur Ranjit Singh

It appears many, including the current government and Auckland Council, agree that New Zealand is fast becoming a diverse and multicultural society with over 200 ethnic communities and that is increasing over time. However they seem to have scant regard for multiculturalism. The Government, with so much talk about diversity, is yet to have a fully-fledged Ministry of Ethnic Affairs. All it has is a token Office and a token Minister overlooking that Office, without any action plan to work in appreciating and recognising changing demographic landscape of New Zealand.  Auckland Council, the second most powerful institution, with almost a third of country’s population has a Mayoral cheerleader called Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel (EPAP), masquerading as ethnic representation. Funding for Waitakere Ethnic Board (WEB), perhaps the only exemplary and very active ethnic body, has been withdrawn by Auckland Council, but they still strive on with the crumbs that are thrown their way. We wonder when NZ will walk its talk on multiculturalism. We are so thankful to Joris de Brez in his efforts to awaken the dead. Hope this workshop by New Zealand Federation of Multicultural Council (NZFMC) is able to remove the wax in the bureaucratic nonchalant ears of the movers and shakers- hoping hopefully.

Joris de Brez- Former Human Rights Commissioner, now works with  NZ Federation of Multicultural Councils ( NZFMC). He is conducting workshops on multicultural society in NZ and collecting data on feedback  for setting up a vision and steps for government and communities to take practical steps to remove the barriers identified.

Joris de Brez came to New Zealand from Holland in 1954, and this Dutch went on to become New Zealand’s Human Right’s Commissioner for two terms. Now, when he is retired, he has not been sitting idle. He has been snapped by New Zealand Federation of Multicultural Councils (NZFMC) as an honorary advisor.

Multicultural New Zealand is currently holding workshops throughout New Zealand to encourage discussion on a vision for a successful multicultural society and the barriers to achieving it. The workshops are part of a programme to develop a strategic agenda for multiculturalism and multilingualism in New Zealand, responding to our rapidly diversifying population. Outcomes of the workshops will be collated into a report which will set out a vision and the barriers that need to be overcome. A further round of workshops will then take place to determine what practical steps can be taken by government and communities to overcome the barriers.

Waitakere Ethnic Board's (WEB) financial support, as agreed by former visionary Waitakere City Council was scrapped by the Super City, Auckland Council. Despite this handicap, WEB continues to make a difference and remains a prominent advocate body for ethnic communities. WEB organised this Multicultural workshop. Pictured here are some of the Executive  Board Members of WEB with  Honorary adviser, Joris  de Brez. From Left: Thakur Ranjit Singh, Derec Lim,  Shirley Freeman, Kwan Lim, Joris de brez, Baljit Singh ( WEB Coordinator), Rajeev Vasudeva and Boaz Habib ( President)

One of these workshops was hosted by Waitakere Ethnic Board in Auckland Council Chambers in Henderson, Auckland on 29 March, 2015. Three workshop groups were formed, and overseen by facilitator, Joris de Brez. Two questions were given to be discussed. These included 1) An aspect of a successful multicultural society is…. and.. 2) A barrier to achieving a successful multicultural society is…..

The group leaders were Kwan Lim, Malvinder Singh and yours truly, Thakur Ranjit Singh. We came back to report the feedback of discussion by respective groups and this developed into a very healthy discussion. Predominantly, this article reports on discussion within my group, but also includes comments of others.

Kwan Lim, one of the group leaders, making her point during discussion

On the first question on the aspect of multiracial society, various ideas came in as follows:
a)    Teaching and inculcating good values and respect at young age to children at home and schools.
b)   Teaching own language, history and heritage – those having pride in their own will respect others.
c)    Encouraging intermixing, inter-mingling and interactions in all cases but particularly during respective cultural and religious festivals, like Eid, Diwali, Easter, Christmas Parades, Lantern festival, African, Asian and multi-cultural festival, among others.
d)   Enhance mutual respect – respect others to be respected in turn.
e)    Having liberal and conscientious religious leaders who can preach the message of love, peace, integration, respect and unity.
f)     Others: People of all ethnicities enjoy equitable outcomes in education, health, housing, justice and employment.  New migrants are welcomed, and are able to access services freely and successfully. There are spaces and opportunities for them to express their views and articulate their needs, so that Government hears them. Their qualifications, education and experience are recognized and valued, and they are able to find commensurate employment.
Malvinder Singh, one of the other group leaders, making a discussion point to one of the participants during networking.
The second question on barriers to achieving this dream of multiculturalism brought in, among others, the following thoughts, some of them bordering on controversy which appear to be the bitter truth.

a)    Religion – some felt that religion which was supposed to unite people and promote peace are reasons for divisions and violence.
b)   Politics – people indulging in politics tend to cause racial tensions to get popular support, or say things that may get them votes.
c)    Poverty – there seems to be is a divide between haves and have-nots, the Remueras and Otaras - and usually this division is on racial lines.
d)   Lack of reflection of the population in governance and running of the society. Example was given of Ferguson, USA where a population of predominantly African Americans have majority White police officers. Same issues applies in other areas where there is a perception that migrants and ethnic people are not reflected or represented in governing of them.
e)    The above leads to a partisan media which fails to reflect the makeup of the population in their newsrooms. Journalists and reporters without knowledge of other cultures and ethnicities tend to be insensitive and cause tension in multicultural communities.
f)     Others: There are insufficient platforms and spaces where migrants can express their views and concerns freely. Ethnic communities are grossly underrepresented, for example, in Auckland Council bodies.  The media also fail to reflect the diversity of society, being largely middle to upper class European. There is insufficient funding for service providers catering to new migrants, and consequently a lack of continuity of services. Services that are available are not sufficiently promoted and publicised, so many migrants are unaware of assistance available to them.
Third Group Leader, Thakur Ranjit Singh, nailing on the issue of lack of colour in Auckland Council's Media and Communications dept and NZ Mainstream media.
Commentary: Some of the issues discussed above are relevant to many grievances that migrants and ethnic people feel towards institutions and organisations like Auckland Council and New Zealand’s mainstream media which fail to reflect the changing colour of the country in their respective organisations. As far as Auckland Council is concerned, I have raised concerns about Auckland Council failing to add colour to its media and communications team with the changing demographic landscape of Auckland. Qualified ethnic media people from the Super City which is fast changing its colour, are denied positions, as the experience sought for these positions only fit the Anglo Saxon media people who get preference in the job market. 

In a group discussion, the Immediate Past President of WEB,Tuwe Kudakwashe is emphatically making a point, calling for authorities to walk their talk on multiculturalism.

On the heels of this workshop, I was pleasantly surprised to get a generic invitation from the Office of Hon Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, Minister of Corrections, Minister for Pacific Peoples, Minister for Ethnic Communities, Associate Minister of Health and MP for Maungakiekie. As we know, National Government has scant regard for migrants and ethnic people. While they have a Minister, there is no Ministry or any special course of action by the government on ethnic people. The meeting has been called by the Minister to understand our needs and aspirations and key challenges and issues our community faces. Hail the Government and Minister who already does not know about these, despite so many forums, meetings and workshops blowing hot air on ethnic issues. I forwarded this message to a Community leader whose reply is self-evident:

I have attended few of these before, these are just PR (Public Relations) stunts from the ministers to show they care. There are hardly any action plans from the issues raised.

The issue here is: Does anyone care? How do you remove such scepticism on issues relating to ethnic people? The answer my friend, is blown with the wind, the answer is blown with the wind.

[About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is a media commentator and runs blogs FIJI PUNDIT and KIWI PUNDIT. He is Media in Communications (MCS) scholar with honours from the best media school in New Zealand, Auckland University of Technology, and is a former newspaper publisher from Fiji. Despite his qualifications and calls of adding colour to media, communications and newsrooms, he still cannot infiltrate the White Media Market, White recruiting agencies, and even add colour to Auckland Council’s media and communications team. With so much PR talk on ethnic issues, and wasted skills, what more is left to talk about aspirations and issues of ethnic people? Hence the skepticism of the community on discussion of ethnic issues in New Zealand]