Michel Barnett is chief executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce.
"Who are you?" said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, "I ... I hardly know, sir, just at present - at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then." - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll

When I grew up and as I watched my children growing up, I was confident I knew who I was and what it meant to be a New Zealander, born and bred, living in an egalitarian society with opportunity for all and believing I was one of the people of the land.

That is no longer how I can identify myself. That tenet is reserved for Maori as we recognise our indigenous people and first settler rights and learn to celebrate our country's unique and increasingly rainbow population swept here on a wave of immigration.

We've had hundreds of thousands of new arrivals in the past five years alone, some short stayers such as students or relatives visiting family, others who see New Zealand as a safe bolthole from violence and repression or providing attractively affordable property investment opportunities to to park cash, and those who genuinely want to be here, play the points game and come in as economic migrants with the intention of making New Zealand home.


Then there are the exceptions. The celebrities of "good character", connections and deep pockets that we chase, who are fast tracked through without complying with the usual citizenship requirements. Look at US billionaire Peter Thiel, who became a citizen after a few short visits, was open about having no intention of living here but was able to buy extraordinary land in Wanaka, and did good donating to the Christchurch earthquake fund.

All we wanted in return was to bathe in the aura of his political and business connections and for him to drop New Zealand's name in passing. Yeah right. I mean he wasn't even on the telly like Michael Barrymore, the flash in the pan New Zealand citizen.

Thiel, like everyone else applying for citizenship here, didn't even have to pass the 'get to know about life in your new country' quiz like wannabe citizens in the UK. Prospects there must answer 140 questions to test their understanding of British history, monarchs, revolutions (industrial), heritage, social, political and civic norms and responsibilities and know how to become a fully participating, committed citizen to their new home.

Where was our immigration or population growth plan, other than to throw open our borders and let the people come in droves in the hope that they would bring the skills and money we need to transform our agribusiness economy into an agile, competitive technology and service economy with great opportunities for investment and growth?

Of course, the people came, not too many of them with the craved-for skills, and our economy grew as measured by escalating house and rental prices and our erstwhile leaders swallowed the disappointment of failing to make New Zealand the financial hub of the South Pacific, settling instead for international media notoriety as an offshore trust haven for a minute or three.

The rub, however, is that our productivity has remained moribund for more than a decade as we slip further down the OECD rankings and our infrastructure is so burdened it can't muster enough energy to groan and moan any more.

It's a New Year, a new day and a new government. So, other than culling the numbers of new arrivals and banning foreign house buyers, where is the plan to turn the challenges from a growing and diverse population to our economic and social advantage and create a new New Zealand with opportunities for all, values that respect, recognise and celebrate diversity and ensure that we have the foundations for a healthy, educated and prosperous society?

We know we have an infrastructure shortfall and huge pressure on housing affordability, transport, employment skills relevant to a digital age, education and health, but we also face a shortfall on engendering an inclusive society where we have the empathy and insight to create a big picture, a bigger vision and accept that each of us has an accountability to make it happen. There is no going back.

One in four people in New Zealand were not born here, but they are now of New Zealand and will be a New Zealander, at least legally, if they can tick the boxes and swear the Oath of Allegiance to be faithful to the Queen, uphold our laws and fulfil their duties as a citizen.

Being "one of us" has responsibilities and privileges. It's not enough to be here now. It requires commitment to know your new country, and participation to nurture, cherish and celebrate a set of shared values to support a culture that respects diversity.

It requires all of us together to uphold a New Zealand identity that enshrines the qualities that show who we are and what we stand for at home, at work, at play and on a world stage.