When it comes to appealing to voters' basest instincts, few do it better than New Zealand First.

They did it again last week with the suggestion that those who wish to make their home here, as immigrants or refugees, should have to sign up to a New Zealand set of values.

Whatever they are. But as vague as the concept is, it is certainly popular, 85 per cent of more than 400 respondents to a Northland Age Facebook poll on the subject supporting it.

'Defining a universally acceptable set of values that we can truly call our own might have been simple a century ago, when Caucasian immigrants had all the political and social power, but, most people would say for the better, has become much more complex as society has evolved.'

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Ask those 85 per cent to define New Zealand values and they would probably struggle.

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New Zealand First's suggestions seem to be acceptance of gender equality, sexual diversity, freedom of religion and the fact that the consumption of alcohol is legal.

Cartoonist Malcolm Evans made a very good point in this newspaper last week when he suggested that the pledge might include support for 'family violence, drug and alcohol abuse, child poverty, welfare dependence, chronic homelessness, record suicides and social dysfunction, based on a slave wage economy, subservient to the foreign policies, illegal wars, detentions and economic terrorism of any country (to which) we just might sell some of our less than green goods'.

Therein lies the problem. Defining a universally acceptable set of values that we can truly call our own might have been simple a century ago, when Caucasian immigrants had all the political and social power, but, most would say for the better, has become much more complex as society has evolved.

That evolution owes much to more recent immigration, but even more to the Maori renaissance. No New Zealand values could be complete without including tikanga Maori, and there is no evidence whatsoever that great swathes of those who already call New Zealand home are even close to accepting that.

Some cultural practices accepted in some other countries will never be accepted here, God willing. It isn't difficult to mount an argument against polygamy, female circumcision, child prostitution, political imprisonment or forced marriages, for example. Any politician who railed against those would be on solid ground, although even that might change depending upon the influence of future immigration.

We are actively importing people who come from cultures that support all of those, and while they are currently tiny minorities, that might change in a couple of generations' time. If that is what NZ First is looking to cut off at the ass, then go for it. But to suggest that we have a common, fundamental set of values that we should all adhere to as the price of residence or citizenship is disingenuous.

At the every least the government would need to set up a working group to define a non-negotiable set of values, which it could pay for by adding a couple of cents to a litre of petrol.

The other problem is immigrant honesty. Does NZ First really believe that anyone who wants to move in is going to refuse to sign up to what we supposedly believe in upon their arrival? Are they really going to say 'Sorry, can't agree to that. Please put me on the next plane back to the hell hole I'm trying to escape from?'

Or do take their word for it that, if they come from a culture that is plainly at odds with 'ours' in terms of certain values, they are prepared to conform with the values we supposedly espouse?

The inclusion of the need for immigrants to accept that alcohol is legal here is interesting. Some of these people have come, and will continue to come, from societies where alcohol is not legal, so perhaps it is reasonable to expect them to adapt.

This newspaper isn't aware of widespread unrest within any immigrant community regarding the right to drink alcohol, even to the point of vomiting in the street, however, so, as is so often the case, this would seem to be a political attempt to offer a political solution to a problem that doesn't exist.

Would it not be more rational to demand that those who wish to live in New Zealand profess their willingness to obey the rule of law? That would at least go some way to placating Malcolm Evans, given that family violence and drug (if not alcohol) abuse are already illegal.

And while our politicians haven't quite got all the answers, they, and the great majority of the people who elect them, are clearly not in favour of child poverty, homelessness or suicide.

Many people who aren't politicians aren't that keen on welfare dependence either, although that's where they and too many politicians part company. The need for welfare is undeniable in a society that cannot provide work for all its citizens, or cannot prevail upon some to take up what work there is, but it can be argued that welfare has done, and will continue to do, a great deal of harm.

The cynic might suggest that from a politician's point of view, welfare dependence is a good thing. No politician who tries to unpick the system that has allowed an extraordinary level of dependence to take hold will last long. Encouraging reliance upon government largesse is perhaps the easiest way of all to nurture voter loyalty. It's certainly worked a treat in this country.

When did you last hear anyone criticise Working for Families, despite the fact that the people who receive it, whether they need it or not, could benefit just as much from a long overdue reconfiguration of the income tax system? Taking that option would deprive the governing party/ies of the ability to display their concern for those who are paying too much tax.

In any event, any immigrant who wishes to become a New Zealand citizen, can only do so by promising to be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her (or His) Majesty (currently Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of New Zealand,) her heirs and successors, according to law, and that they will faithfully observe the laws of New Zealand and fulfil their duties as a New Zealand citizen.

Those who take the oath finish with the words 'So help me God.' Those who take the affirmation skip that bit.

Doesn't that pretty much do what NZ First is looking for? What it should be doing, perhaps, is proposing a response to those who swear the oath or affirmation and don't live up to it. Perhaps the party should look to Australia for inspiration in that regard.

Whatever one thinks about Australia deporting New Zealanders who break its laws, or who display questionable character, there is no doubt that any political party that undertook to give the boot to anyone who wasn't born here in the event of their committing a serious criminal offence would be on to a winner. It can certainly be argued that this country is very tolerant of immigrants who behave badly, very rarely taking the option of giving them a ride to the airport.

Why are we so accepting? This tiny little country at the bottom of the world is a very desirable destination for many more people than can ever hope to live here, and can afford to be fussy.

To expect those who come here to sign up to a set of values that defy definition would be to deprive ourselves of the rich contributions that other cultures can make as we continue the process of developing a society that is distinctly and uniquely ours.

The expectation that they will obey our laws should go without saying. And so should the consequences of not doing so.