What kind of New Zealand might we see in 20 years? Well I saw a snaking line recently and rather than having a nightmarish premonition, I was filled with hope

I saw a human snake crawling its way across a stage in this past week and it could have been anywhere in the world. It was the glimpse of New Zealand's future and raised questions about how New Zealand might looked in 20 years. And you know what? It filled me with hope.

I was at the Meadowbank Primary School's prizegiving and as child after child joined the lines for their class awards, an image from Duncan Garner's controversial DomPost column in October came to mine. That of a line of supposed immigrants taking up valuable space in our infrastructure-poor country.

Garner copped plenty of flak for the imagery and language he used, plus the assumptions he made on the basis of the skin colour of the people he saw waiting in line. But his underlying argument is a vital one for New Zealand to debate after years of running an immigration policy that had people arriving at twice the rate of what New Zealand has long considered normal (two percent growth, rather than one percent).

We have not built in preparation for the population we now have and we still lack a clear idea about what might be the Goldilocks population for New Zealand over the next 20 years and what has to be built and how much spent to reach a satisfactory balance. 

I hope the government has officials working on those questions now, and either getting straight answers or a very good reason why we can't settle (as the Greens suggested in the election campaign) on some sensible numbers. Bad planning could indeed have "nightmarish" results, as Garner warned.

Rapid growth in immigration has been an economic buzz for the economy. That's hardly surprising give how tightly population growth and GDP growth are tied together. But it leaves us with an infrastructure hangover that we will be struggling with for another decade at least. Perhaps more, depending on what this government is prepared to borrow.

The blame for that lies mostly with the past two governments (and a higher proportion of that with National, given how increasingly obvious the trend and its effects became over time). It's not the immigrants' fault. But it was reasonable for Garner to point out that we are not obliged to take anyone, especially if our ability to cope is stretched.

So my observation is not a crack at Garner, who is one of the hardest working journalists around and has a great body of work. Rather it's an acknowledgement that rapid immigration has benefits as well. It's an investment as well as a cost.

You see, while Auckland was curiously ranked last year as the world's fourth most diverse city, Meadowbank, in Auckland's centre-east, is not exactly typical of that. Yet here in a pretty white bread suburb, you couldn't miss the range of names being called on stage to be celebrated for excellence or being most improved.

The surnames: Nguyen, Chang, Gupta, Van Rij, Bessina, Tomei, Lilomaiava, Oriola, Rafiee, Raykova, Lu... and on and on it went. 

Now any number of these talented children may have been here four months, four years or their failies may have been here four generations. Or more. For all I know, it was the Lamberts or the Smiths who were the newsest arrivals on stage. But the sheer range of cultural backgrounds all being celebrated for hard work and success was a delight. Their beaming faces, certificates in hand, was a good reminder for me at least that, if we can build fast and strong, the growth of New Zealand's population is a good thing. 

We want a bigger domestic market, we want a wider range of ideas and viewpoints to tackle the problems our country faces, and we want these smart children showing their skills in maths, the creative arts, science and sport to be part of our country's future in 20 years. We now have the duty, having allowed them in, to move quickly to ensure they belong and have the infrastructure to live productive, happy lives. 

Like Garner said, let's not "stuff it up".

As far as it goes, it's not a particularly clever observation. Just some kids at one prizegiving who illustrate our diversity. But it made my week.

And it reminded me that many new migrants queueing at K-Mart have children who might just have much more clever observations to make in their lives. This remarkably diverse line of kids snaking across the school stage, chuffed to bits and full of promise, was a little shot of hope. One I wanted to share just shy of Christmas.

We really do live in a great little country.



Comments (4)

by Charlie on December 21, 2017

It was a good observation! That sort of thing often gets missed in the politicisation of the issue.

Now my story:

Over the years I have spent a fair amount of time benig driven to and from airports in taxis. My habit is to sit in the front seat and have a conversation with the driver. In most instances the taxi driver will tell me about his chidren and more than likely he'll tell me they're planning to be doctors, engineers and scientists.

So, a couple of years ago I finished up in North Shore hospital facing some life saving emergency surgery. I'm going into the operating theatre on my back on a stretcher and the surgical team are asking all the right questions, as required by protocols. I looked up and saw a circle of Asian and Indian looking faces: It was the sons and daughters of all those taxi drivers! 

Thank God for immigration! Because I might not be here now if it wasn't for those people.

Happy Christmas to all



by Andin on December 27, 2017

" But his underlying argument is a vital one for New Zealand to debate after years of running an immigration policy that had people arriving at twice the rate of what New Zealand has long considered normal (two percent growth, rather than one percent)."

Way to miss the point!

This debate or 'conversation' should have been had before these arsehole policies started. But govts dont do that, because they think they know best. The past half-century has shown that to be the lie of the century. No, they would rather labour wasnt organised, workers took what was handed out, markets or the scumbags who profit from it had the last word. 

You can do hallelujahs till the cows have shat everywhere. the future is looking as bleak as the bleached bones of cow carcasses, that will litter the countryside.

by Anne on December 29, 2017

I agree with your point Andin but it hopefully relates to the past. I also have some hope that this country will, once again, start to show the rest of the world how to run a successful society - in this case a multi-cultural and inclusive society. I refer to the new government which has set itself some laudible targets. It will take time to implement them but in my view they should eventually bring about desperately needed changes... not dis-similar to those implemented by the first Labour govt. elected in 1935.

That's a nice story Charlie, and it represents the positive side of the immigration coin. 

But we have a massive problem to overcome and it is the view of some scientists we have left it too late. Yes, Climate Change. If the brain-dead deniers - chief among them, Donald Trump -  continue to ignore the terrible consequences already starting to manifest themselves, then over the next century or two life on this planet will cease to exist.

by Charlie on January 01, 2018

Good post!

As regards immigration, I think so far we're doing OK. It's hard to tell how it's going to work in the long term, but so far so good.

As of several years ago more than half of working Aucklanders weren't born in NZ and employees - who were pretty conservative when I came here - have been forced to get their heads around hiring people who look different to them. 

A caveat: I don't want to live in a society where immigration results in concrete crash barriers being installed around public buildings, like they now have in Melbourne and Westminster. People coming from bad countries need to leave their baggage behind and want to become first and foremost, New Zealanders.

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