New Zealand First's push for an immigrants 'values test' has taken a dark turn, so let's have a look at all the things New Zealand First is getting wrong here

The devil is always in the detail. It's often not until you get down to the nitty gritty of an idea that you can tell it doesn't just look bad on the surface, it's truly rotten all the way through. Such it is with New Zealand First's dead-end bill on a values test for immigrants.

At first blush, the concept of a bill asking migrants to prove they understand and commit to "New Zealand values" - whatever they are - is pretty ropey and dopey. I've actually got some appetite for a conversation about the ties that bind citizens in a rapidly globalised world, but this is a terrible way to have it. More on that later. Because we need to get to that detail. Today, the sponsor of the 'Respecting New Zealand's Values bill', Clayton Mitchell, told Guyon Espiner on Morning Report that perhaps a panel could be set up to stop an immigrant "behaving that way" or to deliver them "a consequence".

Well, hello Mr McCarthy.

That's pretty disturbing and surely is a pretty hefty mound of dirt on an idea that had already been nailed into a coffin for the term of this parliament at least, given it has been rejected by every party bar, remarkably, ACT.

But Mitchell has vowed to fight on for this cause, so it's worth briefly picking apart some of its many failings.

First of all, to support this idea you have to take the heroic view that New Zealand First is a champion of diversity and civil rights committed to fighting bigotry in all its forms.

Mitchell didn't start off terribly well, telling Newshub they're "largely Christian-based, but not necessarily aligned to any religion". The man has a point in terms of the history of our laws, but it's hard to argue for tolerance when you single out one religion from the get-go, even with qualifiers. He also, weirdly, suggested a key value was "respecting your mum and your dad". By that standard, most teenagers in this country would be on the first ship outta here.

Still, within a day or two the party had found the line its MPs were to repeat. New Zealand values were, it seemed about respecting the law, religious tolerance, treating women as equals (presuming you're a man) and respecting same sex marriage. 

This, from the party which voted to an MP against marriage equality just five years ago. And whose leader voted against legalising homosexuality in the 1980s. Winston Peters has been criticised for 'playing the race card' more than any other politician in my lifetime, for saying things such as, "The government's lax immigration laws are changing the face of our country forever. At this rate, it won't take long for New Zealand to be unrecognisable". Or "We are being dragged into the status of an Asian colony and it is time that New Zealanders were placed first in their own country." 

Why are all those dogs howling?

It is really is rich when Mitchell has the gall to warn that he doesn't want "the redneck brigade to hijack this". Yet at the party conference, supporters said they were concerned about "certain types creeping in". One delegate, apparently without irony, expressed concern about immigrants who "are not actually kosher with New Zealand's way of life".

But being a hypocrite doesn't mean you're wrong. So let's look at how the party is wrong. 

First, Winston Peters has said repeatedly that this suggestion is doing nothing but following the lead of other countries. "Canada does it. Australia does it", he said. Well, not that I can see. Not yet anyway.

Australia has a citizenship test, but no values test. Oh, Malcolm Turnbull had a crack at it last year, but it was kicked to touch by the senate. Turnbull tried again this year, but he's no longer Prime Minister and the new administration is silent on the idea thus far.

Canada has a citizenship test - something NZF MP Tracey Martin said she thought would be preferable (and distinct) to a 'values test'. It asks questions about its national symbols, coat of arms and where the word Canada comes from (Fact: It's a first nations word meaning 'village'. Who knew?). So not values.

Since Mitchell's weekend speech, however, the Coalition Avenir Québec party has won the Quebec state election, promising to introduce a values and language test to immigrants in its state. Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau has been caught up in a values test scandal of his own; but one aimed not at migrants but rather some Canadian citizens. 

In another spooky twist, Britain's Conservatives have, in the past 24 hours, flagged a new policy to introduce a values test. It already has what it calls a 'Life in the UK' test, asking questions about Dunkirk, the heir to the throne, what lobby groups do and how old you have to be to buy a lottery ticket.

So while Peters was eerily prescient, none of those equate to his claim that such countries already have values tests. 

As for the argument itself? Here are four instant problems.

First, those values expressed say nothing about the values that are indigenous to this land. What about, for example, manaakitanga? How would our test capture that unique type of hospitality espoused by the tangata whenua? 

More significantly, how can you have a conversation about the values underpinning our national life without acknowledging the Treaty of Waitangi? Peters is on the record opposing attempts to sneak the Treaty's "mythical principles" into our laws. So how does this law capture our values without regard to the Treaty?

Second, why do we expect immigrants to reach a standard and have a knowledge people born here don't? Looking at questions from the British and Canadian tests, I'm sure many citizens of those countries would struggle to pass. The same would be true here. Be it about values, history or our democracy, why would we expect new New Zealanders to pass a test the rest of us don't have to... or couldn't.

So much for one law for all.

And talking about law, what's wrong with the ones we have? If Peters is concerned about immigrants abusing our employment law, improve the employment law. Why single out migrants, when an exploited worker should be able to expect help from the government regardless of who the ethnicity of who's exploiting them?

If somone is showing prejudice against someone's gender or sexuality, complain to the Human Right's Commission. Further, we already have the Bill of Rights. That captures New Zealand values and locks in the freedoms and rights we endorse as a country. All other laws have to be consistent with the values it lays down.

So why do we need this test as well? Anyone agreeing to be a citizen of this great land is buying into a country where BORA already sets the bar. And it sets the bar for all New Zealanders, not just immigrants. 

Fourth, and finally, good luck defining the consensus values in the current climate. We might immediately say 'free speech' is a core value, but we've learnt this year how hard that is to define, let alone enforce. If a university vice-chancellor can survive putting restrictions on free speech, as Massey's Jan Thomas has thus far, then how do we enforce that on others? (As it happens, Thomas is Australian. Should she be brought before a panel and potentially extradited for her actions?) 

If we want to pull together values, that's a major constitutional discussion to do as a country, not just target it at immigrants. 

Talking about the ties that bind in an increasingly globalised world is not a bad thing. We've seen with the election of Donald Trump and the vote for Brexit that these issues are weighing heavily on people, so it's reasonable - even vital - to talk about these things if we are going to remain cohesive as a citizenry. Arguably, a willingness to talk about these issues is a core New Zealand value.

But how you start and frame that conversation matters. And singling out immigrants or talking of panels is not the right way.  

Comments (15)

by Dennis Frank on October 04, 2018
Dennis Frank

Importing foreigners with alien value-systems has been going on for so many years now that you'd think any consequent cultural pollution in Aotearoa has already reached the saturation point.  Why would NZF try to close this stable door so long after the horse has bolted?  Bernard Hickey reckons they ain't serious:

The false-flag scenario fits the circumstances and "Peters is a cheeky and canny bugger".  "The idea of codifying 'New Zealand values' into law is as absurd as thinking such a law would not itself break our existing laws on Human Rights and discrimination."  This technical point alone suffices to prove lack of serious intent.

Why the need to wave a false flag at media & public?  "This coalition Government promised policies that could reduce migration by as much as 30,000, but has actually introduced policies that increased migration by over 1,000 in its first year."

Wanna know why kiwi conservatives are spooked?  Look no further:  "New Zealand's net migration rate of over 13 per 1,000 is four times faster than net migration to America, which voted for Trump in part because of perceived high migration, four times faster than Britain, which in theory voted for Brexit because of perceived high migration."  NZF could lose it's voter base on this single issue!

Bernard thinks the bill represents "a type of kabuki theatre of extreme and stylised views that mean little in the real world."  Looks, however, can mask a substantial political reality.  Politics being a numbers game, it all depends on the percentage of the electorate who see immigrants as aliens and a threat to our future.  We've seen how toxic immigrant ethnic separatism has become overseas.  Kiwis will be watching any refusal to assimilate here like hawks.

by Andrew Miller on October 04, 2018
Andrew Miller

I’d love to know what these ‘alien values systems‘ are and what ‘cultural pollution‘ is when it’s at home (Actually I’m pretty sure I’ll regret askin). 

As an aside I’ve actually sat the British citizenship test & I concluded it was a weird proxy English language test, and a convoluted way of people ticking a ‘I am not a robot‘ box. 

As for any attempt by May’s government to introduce a values test, I bet it’ll just be seen for what it is, Tory virtual signalling. It would be quite amusing (horrific) to have the DUP actually spell out what would need to be in there to get their vote. 

Q26. The Pope is:

A. The anti christ

B. Someone who traitors to Briton swear their real allegiance to.

C. The man ultimately to blame for why we’ve had to do pretend to support the GFA all these years. 

by Lee Churchman on October 04, 2018
Lee Churchman

There’s a good article on the Canadian situation here:  

Every country has its own ‘settlement’ of customary values and practices that are supported, but not fully exemplified by its laws. People who deny this really need to live somewhere else for a while. Canada, for example, has similar laws to New Zealand, but is different in many ways. This doesn’t mean everyone agrees, but that there is a widely shared consensus on how things work. It’s why it’s true to say that Canada is a more liberal country than the US. Like any other country, most New Zealanders have an interest in their ‘settlement’ and its about more than law.

One of the most appealing aspects of the New Zealand settlement for me is the exclusion of religion from public life. Most countries have some sort of law covering the separation of church and state, but it works out socialy in different ways. I think our way is good for religious people and good for everyone else except the fundamentalist bigots. 

I think this has become a more important conversation to have. I personally don’t want this country to end up like the US or Australia, which are much more socially conservative and authoritarian than New Zealand. Living in other countries made me much more aware of what an outlier New Zealand is. 

It’s not unreasonable to require immigrants to subscribe to New Zealand’s peculiar form of liberalism, and when you look at what was actually said by NZ First, this is what they seem to mean. No one has an absolute right to immigrate here. It’s reasonable to focus on immigrants because they are the primary vector of change. We’re pretty fair: we live and let live for the most part—long may that continue.

It doesn’t mean going back to the 1950s. Canada has a very strong set of values which becomes obvious to anyone who moves there (part of it is endlessly agonising about Canadian identity), yet these involve a heavy commitment to multiculturalism, much stronger than ours.   

I think the difference between New Zealand and Canada is that Canada is much better than us at integrating immigrants into their version of civic nationalism. This may have something to do with immigration being more diverse there. Here, ours tend to come in large waves (English, South Africans, Americans, Chinese…).

Another reason is that the (original) Trudeau government made great efforts to create a common sense of Canadian identity 30-40 years ago. We haven’t had separatist terrorism here to motivate that, but we have also never had a Pierre Trudeau.

I think you are right about the treaty thing. Acceptance of bilculturalism seems important for new immigrants. In Canada it’s even more fraught given that it has come close to seeing the country split apart. 

“Second, why do we expect immigrants to reach a standard and have a knowledge people born here don’t?”

We already do this with other immigration restrictions, so this argument seems pointless to me. Frankly, I’m all for cancelling the citizenship of wealthy Americans using this country as a prepper bolthole. They should stay at home and fix their own mess. Similarly, we have enough backwards bigots here without importing more.

I think Peters views have a wider appeal that people realise. I’ve seen more than one gay person say that he’s on to something, for example. I’d go further and start shipping our bigots to Australia, where they would feel more at home.

by barry on October 04, 2018

I thik the idea has merit.  I get sick of immigrants from the UK complaining about other immigrants speaking languages other than English.  They think immigrants should fit in.  Then they get upset when I speak to them in Maori.

So I think all immigrants should have a grounding in the Treaty of Waitangi, and an understanding that it is the set of rules that allows them (and me) to be here.  I think it would effectively wean out the ones that I wouldn't want to come here


by Dennis Frank on October 04, 2018
Dennis Frank

If NZF wants to get traction with their proposal, it would need to incorporate an enforceable contract into the design of the law.  If, say, islamic immigrants signed a contract to act in accord with our Bill of Rights Act, they would become bound to respect the equal rights of women.  Young islamic men expecting to be able to get away with traditional patriarchal behaviour such as forcing women to be subservient would informed by immigration officials that such behaviour is illegal here.

If one of them took a test case under our law, pleading his belief had a divine mandate, our courts would have to decide whether his freedom of religion allowed him to discriminate against women in the traditional islamic manner.  That would be an interesting outcome.  The prosecutor would ask the court to find him in breach of his immigration contract, I presume.  If the law were designed to revoke the citizenship of such would-be patriarchs found guilty, they could be expelled back to their country of origin.

That would be a suitable way to reduce, and hopefully eliminate, the effect of cultural pollution by those who have immigrated here using false pretences.  I'm not confident that NZF are capable of such intelligent design...

by Lee Churchman on October 05, 2018
Lee Churchman

If, say, islamic immigrants signed a contract to act in accord with our Bill of Rights Act, they would become bound to respect the equal rights of women. 

I think that might be going a bit too far. There's definitely a case for excluding prospective immigrants who can be shown to have demonstrated extremely illiberal values. Perhaps we should be harder on people who behave like this in New Zealand. I know that many New Zealand women cannot stand Middle Eastern men, who talk down to them and treat them like servants, and that has become a 'thing' in recent years. 


by Dennis Frank on October 05, 2018
Dennis Frank

Herald has an interesting take from Bruce Logan, a former teacher and director of the Maxim Institute.

"It is only in my lifetime that morality has become relativised and subjective. What we used to know, and call "virtue" has become "values". For the historically minded, the transformation from virtue to values was initiated by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and reinforced by the sociologist Max Weber.  The Oxford English Dictionary, as late as 1928, still regarded "value" as a verb. In general use it was not yet a noun. One did not have "values". The private conscience was still shaped by "virtue"."

That accords with my memory of our culture in the fifties & sixties.  Yet I also recall from that era traditional kiwi values were commonly referred to as rugby, racing & beer.  No virtue there.  "The authority of "values" brings with it the assumption that morality is subjective and relative; they are little more than customs and conventions."  Yes, but there was probably a deeper reason why the Values Party called itself that.  Despite reading their manifesto at least once I never encountered any reason for their banality (dismissed them as leftist mainstreamers pretending to be Green - they also wore suits).

"Because virtue was shared in belief and practice it enabled cultural cohesion. It gave meaning and confidence to the "We" of nationhood. We thought we were all in the national enterprise together. Immigrants were welcomed and absorbed into that enterprise."  Yes, trust cannot work to facilitate collaboration unless an ethical sub-structure pervades a society.  That's why assimilation is essential.


by Lee Churchman on October 07, 2018
Lee Churchman

“It is only in my lifetime that morality has become relativised and subjective. What we used to know, and call "virtue" has become "values". For the historically minded, the transformation from virtue to values was initiated by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and reinforced by the sociologist Max Weber.”

OK. He’s just mistaken about pretty much all of this. In fact he has no clue what he is talking about and doesn’t appear to have read the authors he mentions. Then I see he’s from the Maxim Institute, the home of fanatical sophistry and misrepresentation, so I now understand.

Nietzsche is most plausibly a virtue ethicist given his views on the primacy of moral character over moral rules. He also seems committed to resurrecting a pre-Socratic conception of virtue or something closely related to Aristotle’s conceptions of megaloprepeia (munificence) and megalopsucheia (great-soulness). In practice, Nietzsche spends quite a bit of time sneering at utilitarianism and Kantianism, mostly on virtue ethical grounds. 

For someone often deemed a relativist, he has very strong moral views. But even if he’s a relativist, that doesn’t stop him being a virtue ethicist. You can plausibly argue that virtues are the best way of understanding moral claims, but also hold that there are different and incompatible sets of virtues.

But the distinction between virtue and values has little to do with it. Modern societies are liberal pluralist. That is: there’s a set of common rules to enable social harmony and a private sphere in which people are free to express different values. This idea predates Nietzsche and Weber by some time. 

Part of it comes from the history of religious dissent. People realised that it trying to legislate personal virtue is hopeless—you can only burn so many heretics before it becomes ridiculous. We have therefore abandoned ‘perfectionist’ societies, where the government legislates wide-scope virtues in favour of liberal societies. 

People differ wildly in their views of the good life. As such, the least-worst society is one where people agree on a limited set of common rules. Call them values if you like, but one could easily understand them as virtues, albeit ones of a much narrower scope. For example, tolerance is obviously a virtue. It’s not subjectivity: it’s practicality. 

It’s these narrow scope ‘liberal’ virtues that NZ First is talking about. It seems to me plainly true that these have become embedded in the New Zealand character, much as they have in Canadian society (the closest analogue I know of). A commitment to civic multiculturalism is, I think, best understood as a virtue involving a person’s sense of justice, prudence, and tolerance (all virtues according to Aristotle).

by Charlie on October 08, 2018

I think before we begin to list 'New Zealand Values' we need to figure out what the 'Principles of the Treaty' are.  :-)



by Fentex on October 09, 2018

 ...perhaps a panel could be set up to stop an immigrant "behaving that way" or to deliver them "a consequence".

I can't quite put my finger on it - what was the name of the citizen committees in the Soviet Union, before which people were denounced?

by Fentex on October 09, 2018

The whole topic is nonsense and a simple appeal to bigotry and prejudice.

We elect a parliament, it enacts laws on our behalf - those laws consitute our values, the ones we enforce, and it doesn't much matter what anyone thinks - we will enforce our laws on their actions, born here or not.

by Lee Churchman on October 09, 2018
Lee Churchman

We elect a parliament, it enacts laws on our behalf - those laws consitute our values, the ones we enforce, and it doesn't much matter what anyone thinks - we will enforce our laws on their actions, born here or not.

You can't believe this. Every society has values that are enforced by social disapproval but lack legal sanction. For example, in New Zealand bragging about your accomplishments in the way Americans do will see you mocked and ostracised. That's a straight up difference in values that has nothing to do with the law.

by Tim Watkin on October 11, 2018
Tim Watkin

Dennis and Lee, I do think though that the laws are there to capture our values. Yes, there are non-legal values, but some of them do differ from culture to culture within a NZ culture. These things exist side-by-side and can be fine... others don't fit well. I think we need to be careful not to idolise culture.

But equally, the BORA already applies to all NZ citizens so all migrants have to sign up to that. What would having to sign some commitment achieve that citizenship doesn't already?



by Lee Churchman on October 11, 2018
Lee Churchman

But equally, the BORA already applies to all NZ citizens so all migrants have to sign up to that. What would having to sign some commitment achieve that citizenship doesn't already?

I don't think a signed commitment would be the right way to go about this. I would think that denying people like Lauren Southern New Zealand Citizenship based on prior demonstration of antipathy for our widely held social and political values would be reasonable. They wouldn't fit in here. 
We need to be careful not to idolise culture
Sure, but it is part of what makes it worth living in New Zealand. I chose to live here as opposed to Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia, because I find the general social and political culture of New Zealand preferable, even though our laws aren't that much different from those of other English-speaking liberal democracies.That's not to say it's perfect. The horror of abstract thought that is common here annoys me, but other things make up for it, such as the lack of religion in public life. 
by Dennis Frank on October 12, 2018
Dennis Frank

Yes, Tim, our laws do reflect our values (those of prior generations mostly), but do migrants actually "have to sign up to that"?  Seems like the NZF bill is being promoted because they actually don't.  Which is why I suggested that a contract would be a better solution to the problem.

I agree that we ought not to idolise our culture.  Like Lee, I've always felt at home in Aotearoa, and travelling elsewhere tended to affirm that.  The point is really any perceivable threat to our way of life from immigrant communities, and I agree the evidence currently isn't strong that such a threat exists.  However human nature is such that migrants brainwashed since birth by religions and ideologies that are obviously a threat to us will be perceived as a social problem.  Psychology suggests that adherence to such alien belief systems will prevail over our civil rights legislation because immigrants don't get educated about our civil rights when they get here. 

Since conservatives remain a significant political sector in this country, we must acknowledge their weight of collective opinion.  Public policy must be developed on a consensus basis, to endure.  As a life-long radical, I therefore advise inclusion of their view rather than exclusion.

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