John Minto: It's time to end racism in immigration policy

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Tongan fans were a highlight of the Rugby World Cup. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Tongan fans were a highlight of the Rugby World Cup. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Before the Rugby World Cup fades completely from our collective memory there are some aspects which deserve a second thought.

We live a few blocks from Eden Park and through the tournament we saw groups of fans and visitors from various countries coming and going. There were plenty of groups of Scottish, Irish and Welsh supporters often the worse for wear and we saw plenty of boozy, bawdy, Australian supporters lurching their way towards the park.

But by far the most memorable supporters' group appeared on Sandringham Road just off the end of our street and the neighbourhood turned out to see the huge march of Tongan supporters on their way to Eden Park.

It was a cheerful, noisy crowd in a sea of red clothing and flags as many hundreds took part in a lively, vibrant pre-match celebration.

Whole families had come in from across South Auckland for an event which was as much a celebration of Tongan pride as it was support for the Tongan team.

There was a loud, jovial "Oom-Pa-Pa" band with the musicians dressed in traditional flax and delivering an energetic brass band sound which was to European ears what kilikiti is to cricket. The mixture of ages added authenticity and made it an especially memorable occasion as local Tongans filled the street with energy and life.

When they reached Eden Park most didn't go in - it would have been too expensive - but headed back home to watch the game on TV. We saw similar scenes with Samoan supporters who turned their pride into a great spectacle in support of their team. I'm not a rugby follower but these scenes brought an infectious energy and spirit to the tournament which was impossible to ignore. It reinforces that New Zealand is a South Pacific country and that this no longer applies just to geography.

So why don't we treat people from the Pacific with the same respect as we treat Australians when they come here to work? Why do we persist with discrimination against our Pacific neighbours?

An Australian can get off a plane and get a job and no one bats an eyelid. So why can't people from Tonga and Samoa do the same?

Politicians will suggest a couple of reason but neither holds water. One view is that our Pacific neighbours would flood the country and leave their island homes deserted. But that's not the case with the Cook Islands whose citizens have automatic travel rights to New Zealand. Yes there would be an initial spike but this could be managed without any real dramas.

And what about jobs? It's true enough New Zealand has a serious jobs shortage but if this were a real concern in the context of immigration then the government would limit or control the movement of Australians into New Zealand. They don't. It's just our Pacific neighbours who face the barriers.

In any case we have groups from the Pacific brought over to New Zealand to work as contract labour in horticulture in particular. They are often treated disgracefully with frequent revelations of awful working conditions and rip-off agents who pay below the minimum wage and treat them as the indentured labour of past centuries. Most of the New Zealand business owners employing these workers seem happy to turn a blind eye.

But the real reason we don't treat our Pacific neighbours as we do Australians is a legacy of pervasive racism from the early period of Pacific migration here in the 1960s and 1970s.

We firstly welcomed workers from the islands to come here to take up jobs in our factories. Pacific workers built much of our manufacturing sector in places like South Auckland but when the economy faltered, as capitalist economies inevitably do, Labour and National governments instituted dawn raids to round up and deport these workers while effectively ignoring overstayers from other countries.

In the wake of the World Cup it's time to think about the huge contribution our Pasifika workforce has made to this country and appreciate the life and colour they bring to our communities.

And time also to end discrimination against them in immigration policy.

* John Minto is Mana Party candidate for Manukau East

- NZ Herald

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