It is telling that the increase in immigrants projected in the Auckland Council's 30-year plan has attracted very little comment. Until now, that is. Bill Rayner, Grey Power's Auckland zone director, has spoken out against the prospect of people of Asian origin comprising almost 30 per cent of Aucklanders in 2021. That is up from 19 per cent in 2006 and just 5.5 per cent in 1991. This, says Mr Rayner, bodes ill for the community and lifestyle of the region's older residents. They are "under serious threat from the rapid and huge changes in size and ethnic mix projections in the Auckland Plan," he says in a submission to the council.
Mr Rayner is right about the extent of the change. Population trends mean, in effect, that Auckland's three main ethnic groups of Europeans, Asian, and people of Maori and Pacific heritage will soon be of roughly equal size. There will always be people fearful of change of this pace and of the increasing diversity of society. But Mr Rayner is certainly wrong to believe his concerns are widely shared.
The lack of reaction to the Auckland Plan's projection speaks volumes of the changes in attitude since the 1990s when Winston Peters began ranting about immigration invasions and New Zealand being "dragged into the status of an Asian colony". In fact, the increase in the Asian population has created no problems that he and others predicted. There will always be claims along the lines that immigrants push up house prices and increase demand on hospitals and schools. Some of these may have a kernel of truth; most are totally unwarranted. In any event, they are far outweighed by the economic activity and other positives brought by migrants. And if the recent increase in immigrants from Asia has created no significant problems, why should a further increase be the subject of fear?
Other Grey Power officials understand this. The national president, Roy Reid, has described Mr Rayner's submission as racist, and said it did not reflect the views of the organisation's membership. Auckland's population mix was, he said, "something we are going to have to learn to live with". Mr Reid has, in particular, challenged Mr Rayner's call for decisions to be made about Auckland's "optimum size and ethnicity", likening it to a concept that would not be out of place in apartheid-era South Africa. That aside, it is fair to assume Mr Rayner's optimum ethnicity level would see the Asian percentage of the population at somewhere much lower than projected.
If there is any plus to his comments, it is that they should encourage Aucklanders to think how this influx of migrants from Asia - up from 268,600 in 2006 to 469,800 in 2021 - will influence the face of the city. What, for example does it mean for transport, housing or social infrastructure? The Auckland Plan is largely silent on this. It restricts itself to bland statements on how new migrants enrich our culture and lifestyle, and how this must be a fair and inclusive city. "Valuing and celebrating our complex diversity will enable Auckland to be viewed as a city of prosperity and opportunity, and an inclusive, safe tolerant city, which promotes equality," it says. "In this way, Auckland will continue to attract and retain people to live and invest here."
Mr Rayner was doubtless dismayed by the last sentence, in particular. This country was, however, founded on successive waves of immigration. Each has contributed in its own way to Auckland's unique character. The wave of Asian migrants has already stamped its mark. That will only increase as time goes by.
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