Editorial: Multiculturalism good for Tauranga

By Annemarie Quill

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Even though I have lived here for 10 years, there are aspects of Kiwi culture I still find odd.

"Bring a plate", is a bit stingy. Invite me to a party and I have to bring the food? Wearing shorts all year round - even wearing them in the first place.

The way Kiwis drop in unannounced unnerves me. Even if a best friend knocked at the door out of the blue, the average Londoner would ask, "What the hell do you want?"

Add to this the language barrier. In the Warehouse, staff directed me to the camping department when I asked for summer hats (they understood huts). Only yesterday I was telling a Kiwi colleague about a guy who hunts with a falcon. She replied that she thought he was more of a Holden man.

Despite the culture clash, I love it here, and feel privileged to be part of the local community.

I am not the only one. As James Fuller reports, nearly 2000 people move to the Bay of Plenty from overseas every year, which is changing the cultural face of the region.

It is no longer just the British. The region is benefiting from an increase in populations from India, China, Germany, Italy, Brazil and South Africa.

These different cultures can be seen in schools, sports fields and businesses. In our office, we have a Dutchie, an Aussie, and a Transylvanian.

Cultural diversity is a good thing. As Helen Gould of Tauranga's Settlement Support Office says in today's report, migrants bring different and new perspectives, innovation, and creativity. There is much to learn from them - some have incredibly strong work ethics.

Embracing multiculturalism is not just a Utopian paradigm. The global financial crisis has highlighted more than ever the need for specialised, skilled staff to lift productivity, leading to growth and profitability.

A check of job vacancies in the Tauranga region shows most employers are seeking people with specific skills. Yet, as we reported this month, in the latest Tauranga business confidence survey, 24 per cent of respondents indicated they were finding it difficult to find skilled staff.

Skills shortages in the Bay of Plenty reflect what's happening nationally, according to Immigration NZ, which lists construction, trades, agriculture and science among areas experiencing skills shortages.

Migrants to Tauranga can bring these wider skills. In some cases they bring capital and entrepreneurship, providing a wider base to our economy beyond primary production.

James Fuller reports that many newcomers to the Bay establish businesses. There are now 500 businesses owned and operated by Chinese businesspeople in the Bay.

Not everyone is welcoming. I generally refer to myself as Irish, which my parents are, even though I am a proud Liverpudlian; simply because Kiwis seem to love the Irish and I have tired of the jokes about Poms. Other immigrants may experience more serious forms of racism.

This reticence on the part of some to welcome strangers surprises me. A quarter of all New Zealanders - and 40 per cent of Aucklanders - were born overseas.

I am proud my children are Kiwis - two born in Auckland and one in Tauranga. They also value their English and Irish heritage. My daughter can catch a fish, pronounce her vowels and swear like the Irish.

If Tauranga can embrace its diverse community, it is a city better prepared for the wider world.

Just don't come knocking on my door with your plate.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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