Mai Chen looks at the challenges superdiversity poses New Zealand in the kick-off to a new Herald series

New Zealand's defining issue through the coming decades will be, not diversity, but superdiversity. This is especially evident in Auckland, where almost 50 per cent of the population is Maori, Asian and Pacific peoples; where 44 per cent were not born in New Zealand; and where there are over 200 ethnicities, and 160 languages spoken.

By 2038, on Statistics NZ projections, 51 per cent of New Zealanders will be Asian, Maori and Pasifika, although 66 per cent will still identify as European due to New Zealanders with multiple ethnicities. New Zealand's superdiversity has reached a critical mass; never before has New Zealand had living here such a large number of people who were not born here. This puts us in a small group of nations, especially given the uniquely high percentage of Maori in our population.

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I am part of that demographic shift. When I was six years old, my Olympic Coach dad was invited by the New Zealand YMCA to be the Branch Secretary for Bryndwr YMCA, Christchurch and I migrated with him, my mother and sisters from Taiwan to Christchurch, and then Dunedin.


We became NZ citizens in 1975 and today I am Managing Partner of Chen Palmer, a director on the BNZ Board and an Adjunct Professor (University of Auckland School of Law), my eldest sister is a medical doctor who is involved extensively in NGO work in South East Asia, my second sister is a Professor at Oxford University in the UK and teaches extensively in Asia, my third sister co-ordinates the Academic Skills Centre at the University of Canterbury and my parents lecture all around the world after Dad retired from the Dunedin Teachers College and my Mum from the Dunedin City Council.

We have all married kiwis. All but one of our children was born here and we are all passionate NZers. We have deep roots in this country.

The Superdiversity Stocktake: Implications for Business, Government and New Zealand is my contribution to the national conversation we need to have to help us shape our own future, and can be accessed free on on from 3 November, together with Superdiversity, Democracy and New Zealand's Electoral and Referenda Laws.

Over this week, the Herald will be previewing parts of the Superdiversity Stocktake, which the Superdiversity Centre for Law, Policy and Business will be formally launching at the Auckland Art Gallery on 3 November.

Superdiversity: The series


Changing faces





Family life







NZ's future.

The Stocktake presents the data on what is happening to our country demographically, and what we need to do to ensure it remains economically and socially strong and racially harmonious. As a public lawyer and policy specialist, I know that evidence is critical to good quality debate and workable solutions, as opposed to conjecture and bias.

There are many facts, statistics, studies, research and analysis that New Zealanders businesses and public agencies, need to understand to get fit for NZ's superdiverse future. So far this information hasn't been brought together and analysed, partly because it's so complex. Understanding it and the legal and policy implications is essential both for business and for government, which is why I shifted to Auckland in 2012.

What's clear is that the current status quo will undergo radical change; there can be no "business as usual" when the demography of New Zealand is changing so rapidly. Indeed we are enjoying a diversity dividend. But investment is needed to maintain that diversity dividend, and consideration needs to be given to adopting a formal multicultural policy on a bicultural base, so we can systemically think through the ramifications and fund the implementation measures needed.

The perspectives of ethnic minorities - as well as Maori - have been largely missing from the discussion of superdiversity to date, despite being critical. Our demographic change has given us largely untapped resources of cultural intelligence and knowledge of different cultures and languages.


I do not pretend to have all the answers or that everyone will agree with my recommendations, but my hope is that the Stocktake contributes to NZ's success as a superdiverse country.

• I am grateful for the support of the BNZ, XERO, Perpetual Guardian, Ministry of Education, Designworks, the Human Rights Commission, the NZ Law Foundation, Chen Palmer and the University of Auckland School of Law.
PwC Herald Talks
Mai Chen will be a panellist at next month's PwC Herald Talks breakfast event.

Subject: Changing Markets
Keynote: Sir Ray Avery
Date: November 4
Venue: SkyCity Theatre
Tickets: $89 from iTicket.

The PwC Herald Talks series are brought to you by the New Zealand Herald, PwC, Newstalk ZB and event partners SKYCITY and Kea.
Tickets for the Changing Markets breakfast on Wednesday, November 4 are $89 per person at iTicket.