Fran O'Sullivan: Xenophobia over Crafar sale galling

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Chinese New Year celebrations in New Zealand have been marred by the vitriol directed at the local Chinese community over the sale of the Crafar farms. Picture / Natalie Slade
Chinese New Year celebrations in New Zealand have been marred by the vitriol directed at the local Chinese community over the sale of the Crafar farms. Picture / Natalie Slade

Xenophobia over Crafar sale galling

Labour leader David Shearer went up in my estimation when he declared Waitangi Day a politics-free zone, "a time when we come together as a nation to celebrate our cultural diversity and everything that's so great about New Zealand".

So far, I've found Shearer underwhelming. Too ready to scratch every political itch, including (although I am sure this did not start out deliberately) ramping up anti-Chinese sentiment as a result of his campaign against the Crafar dairy farms sales to Shanghai Pengxin.

This has deeply worried the New Zealand Chinese community as they gather round the country this weekend to celebrate their own Lantern Festival.

It has also concerned Shanghai Pengxin's affable chairman Jiang Zhaobai, who was clearly not prepared for the lengths to which Sir Michael Fay and his consortium have gone to challenge what a Chinese businessman brings to the table.

Businessmen from elsewhere have not been subject to similar legal challenges within New Zealand.

He has also had to sign a rather distasteful "good behaviour" condition in order to invest here, that seems not to have been applied to many businessmen of other nationalities.

You won't hear much about this in the mainstream media.

At various functions I have been to in Auckland this week to celebrate Chinese New Year, there has been much talk of reactionary feelings towards Chinese.

Some told me they were frightened by the vehemence and the violent language used on websites and talkback radio shows as commentators damned the Crafar sale. Some Chinese said they felt this palpable racism is also aimed at them.

There is talk about this within their own Chinese language media.

I experienced a bit of this myself last week when the website, thestandard.org.nz, branded me an "enemy of the people" for supporting the sale.

To my mind the deal provides much greater upside for New Zealand than many of the other farms sales which have gone to foreign interests in recent years.

The Standard is reputed to have been started by a bunch of Labour Party activists. Most posters won't sign their names to their comments because they are frightened they will be held responsible. They are frankly cowards.

I finally branded them the "Ku Klux Klan" of the internet world on Twitter. A bunch of lily-livered word jocks who hide behind their virtual cloaks of anonymity.

But I would have engaged them directly in the argument if they had signed their names.

The website's policy is to retain anonymity because they are frightened their commenters will be persecuted by employers or landlords - whoever - if their identities are made known.

Then there were the emailers who threatened they would blockade the Crafar farms; that Landcorp would need protection from the Diplomatic Protection Squad while they managed them for the Chinese owner. That John Key (a "traitor") should step up his own protection. So it went on.

Clearly this is an issue that needs to be addressed if we are to go forward in a unified way as a multicultural nation. And as a nation of grown-ups that forges personal and commercial ties with the new growth engines of Asia such as China and India.

The plain fact is we are not simply a bicultural nation - it is no longer just Maori and Pakeha, it is a rich and very diverse nation.

The Waitangi Treaty plays a role as the founding document for this nation. But grievances still dominate.

I agree with Shearer that we all need a break from the anger and dysfunction that has come to represent Waitangi Day.

But the Maori and Mana parties seem determined to leverage it as the fulcrum for their discontent over the Government's plan to ensure that the partial sale of state assets is free of any encumbrance from the Treaty of Waitangi clauses in the existing state-owned enterprises legislation. That plan may already have come a cropper. But is it really the biggest debate in Maoridom?

If we gave ourselves a break from the tensions that Waitangi Day provides, we might just find Maori concentrate on the long overdue debate they need to have.

The debate about why a two-tiered Maori society has developed: The major iwi leadership groups keen to invest in the state-owned assets when they go up for sale, and the ordinary Maori who have waited for far too long for tribal aristocrats to invest a major portion of the proceeds of the settlements in developing their prospects.

Former Labour Cabinet minister John Tamihere is starting to beat a drum on this issue. He walked the Bastion Point heights and lamented the dreadful living standards many urban Maori live in while the elites build their intergenerational wealth. He wants them to fund today's generations - not just tomorrow's.

In 1972 former Labour Prime Minister Norman Kirk announced Waitangi Day would be a national holiday known as New Zealand Day. The New Zealand Day Act 1973 was passed in 1973.

Kirk believed we had grown up and were ready to move to being adults in the nationhood world.

But his successor Sir Robert Muldoon and Maori thought this debased the founding nature of the country.

They were both right.

Let's keep and enjoy Waitangi Day - but let's also move to make a new day of celebration called New Zealand Day that reflects what modern day New Zealand is today.

Enjoy Monday.

- NZ Herald

Fran O'Sullivan

A columnist for the NZ Herald

Fran O'Sullivan has written a weekly column for the Business Herald since its inception in April 1997. In her early journalistic career she was a political journalist in Wellington and subsequently an investigative journalist who broke many major business stories including the first articles that led to the Winebox Inquiry in both NBR and the Sydney Morning Herald. She has specific expertise in relation to China where she has been a frequent visitor since the late 1990s. She is a former Editor of the National Business Review; has twice been awarded Qantas Journalist of the Year and is a multiple winner of the Westpac Financial Journalism Supreme Award.

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