Divisiveness as well as diversity

Between 2005 and 2007, a total of 119,600 people migrated to NZ from overseas. 41,300 of those were New Zealand born citizens returning home. The remaining 78,300 were born overseas.

The vast majority of migrants have made Auckland their home in a very short time, changing the demographics of the population dramatically. More than half (56.7%) of the overseas born migrants and 34.4% of returning New Zealanders settled in the Auckland region.  According to Statistics NZ, by 2013 a total of 517,182 people living in Auckland were born overseas. That’s 39.1% of all those living in Auckland; more migrants than in any other region in New Zealand. I am one of them.

I arrived in NZ in the mid 70s and Auckland has been my home ever since. So, I have nothing against immigration. Immigrants bring many new and wonderful things to New Zealand. They also bring some very different values and behaviours. It requires time for individual and group differences to co-exist comfortably under a unified national identity. Without careful planning, immigration policy can lead to divisiveness as well as diversity.

When changes in population numbers take place too rapidly, the different cultural, racial, religious, and economic demographics that result can be extremely difficult to accommodate and often creates a “them against us” backlash before a new balance can begin to take place. We see this same dynamic taking place with both the flood of desperate migrants into Europe and here at home with the rapid influx of migrants into New Zealand in recent years who come with money and skills. Their resources don’t seem to matter as much as the rate at which they arrive on our shores.

In such large numbers immigration puts huge demands on infrastructure, creating shortages that everyone is forced to endure. Even when immigrants are skilled and financially secure, arriving in large numbers without adequate preparation by the host country for meeting their needs, creates traffic gridlock, unaffordable housing, escalating rates, longer waiting lists at hospitals and for GP appointments, overcrowding in schools….

Auckland residents have experienced dramatic changes in the quality of their daily lives as they struggle with overcrowding and inadequate infrastructure. Long term Auckland residents face rising costs while new immigrants compete for existing infrastructure and services – including housing for those immigrants who can out bid locals in the housing market.

That is not the fault of immigrants, who are simply seeking a better life. It is the shortsighted government policy that moves people in large numbers between nations, without adequately pacing that transition and attending to the groundwork for that transition to succeed, that creates the xenophobic “them against us” backlash.

Feeling overwhelmed by change that is taking place too rapidly naturally triggers fear. “Fight or flight” are the natural responses to fear. We have seen record numbers of New Zealanders flee Auckland. Others have raised angry voices over the “Asian Invasion”.

By doing nothing to stem the rate of migration, while focusing solely on creating more housing in Auckland, even as the infrastructure supporting the current population is failing to keep up with demand, the government is engaged in short term “ambulance at the bottom of the hill” thinking that has put all of us and our way of life at risk.  More people may mean more money for government, more workers for business, more consumers, more tax revenue, and greater diversity.

It also means more demand on housing, health, social services, education, transportation, and the environment;- all of which new migrants have equal rights to once they arrive.  It takes many years and billions of dollars to meet those demands.

More housing is not a solution in and of itself. We need to regulate the rate of immigration as we work to ensure that we have the necessary infrastructure – housing, water, energy, hospitals, doctors, schools, teachers, public transportation, roads, etc. – to serve the needs of those who are already here.

We need to give ourselves the time to adapt to changes, to make sure that essential services are robust, and to plan more proactively for future growth so that our diversity does not devolve into discrimination as it has in other parts of the world.

What‘s  ‘xenophobic’ about that?

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Kathy Torpie

Kathy Torpie has done many things in her life, including attending Paul Smith’s Journalism class over 20 years ago! She is a retired (well, kind of retired!) psychologist, author, keynote speaker and a former magazine columnist and freelance writer.