Relishing a chance not shared in homeland

Power & people: Democracy in the new NZ

May Wang has voted in every general election since arriving from northeast China 12 years ago.

As an Asian migrant, she is part of a demographic that is less
likely to enrol or turn up at the ballot box.

The Mt Roskill mother of two and accountant said many elderly Chinese did not understand New Zealand's political system, or worried about the language barrier. But she relished the chance to cast a vote for the first time in her life.


"I never voted in China. It was new for me," she said. "In New Zealand, people asked you to vote, they said, 'This is your right'."

Her first general election, in 2005, was difficult to ignore: "It was in the mail, television, newspaper, radio, everywhere."

Even though her English was limited, she said, the registration process and voting were easy to navigate.

"It was a good process. We got a brochure in the mail which told us which place to go, and information on candidates."

On election day, "volunteer workers said where to go and told you how to do it".
Her most important issue was which political party had the best social welfare and economic policies, and candidates she felt she could trust.

"You have to carry people even when they are not working but want to work ... "
If anything could be changed for future elections, Mrs Wang suggested online voting for general elections.

"More people would vote."

New migrants less likely to vote


When it comes to voting in New Zealand's elections, new migrants rank alongside beneficiaries, solo mothers and the unemployed for turning up at the ballot box.

Pacific Islanders, Chinese and Koreans in particular are less likely to vote than other ethnicities.

Under-representation at the polling booth is also reflected in Parliament, where the proportion of Asian MPs is below the share of the total population.

A study by the New Zealand Immigration Service shows that after 18 months in New Zealand, nearly a quarter of migrants are still not on the electoral roll.

As the country becomes more diverse, experts say, it is important that migrants and minority groups have a larger stake in the democratic process.

In her Superdiversity Stocktake report, Mai Chen says New Zealand already do more than most comparable countries to allow new migrants to vote. A person needs only to have permanent residency for a year before they can cast a vote in general elections. Most countries require voters to gain citizenship, which can take three to five years.

New Zealand also has a sophisticated suite of measures to help those with little or no English to vote.

The Electoral Commission provides information packs in 21 languages (other than New Zealand's three official languages) and at the last election made connections with migrant community groups to deliver enrolment information to hard-to-reach people.

Ms Chen says that as New Zealand becomes "superdiverse", getting new migrants to vote will become more complex and expensive.

Her report makes a number of recommendations for central government, in particular making voter participation a whole-of-government priority with cross-party support.

The Electoral Commission should regularly review linguistic diversity, and consider voting forms in languages other than English accordingly, the report says. Access to interpreters should be improved at polling booths and safeguards need to be introduced to make sure non-English speaking voters are not
taken advantage of by electoral volunteers.

The report points to initiatives in other similar jurisdictions which could be considered here. In Toronto, Canada, election information has to be made available in every language spoken in 2 per cent or more of the homes in a city. If applied to New Zealand, information would have to be available in English, Maori, and Samoan.

Victoria University researcher Fiona Barker said language barriers were only one factor in non-voting. Dr Barker and her colleague Kate McMillan have been speaking to migrants about their experiences in registering and voting in New Zealand. She said the biggest factor in voting or not voting was how long they had lived in the country.

"People are entitled to vote at a time when they're not settled, they are still working out their way in society and don't understand the political system. For many people they don't feel ready to vote yet."

Dr Barker said the most important step was getting migrant voters enrolled and educated about MMP.

Police set example for agencies

Opening a multi-faith prayer room at Porirua's Police College and patrolling areas of Auckland with Chinese volunteers has helped put police top of the government pile in dealing with diversity.

Police, which run a website available in 13 languages, have been given the gold star as the best "superdiversity"-aware government agency after a survey found others must improve.

Challenges for public servants go far beyond language barriers.

For police, for example, some migrants come from countries where family violence is not a serious law enforcement matter, or where officers are corrupt.

Making sure the agency is aware of those cultural differences and can counter them is, in some cases, a matter of saving lives or solving crimes. That is equally true for departments that provide social support and help protect vulnerable children, such as the Ministry for Social Development.

The Superdiversity Stocktake by Mai Chen surveyed all government departments and agencies and ranked Police, Customs, the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) as best of the lot.

MBIE recently trialled blind CVs in a recruitment round for senior analysts - where information that identifies ethnicity and gender is removed for short-listing.

The Superdiversity Stocktake found not all agencies recognised that superdiversity would have ramifications for their policy or the way they worked.

The Office of Ethnic Communities, within the Department of Internal Affairs, is charged with helping other government departments and agencies lift their game.

Lucy Liang, manager of business products and services, told the Herald her office would talk to departments about the superdiversity survey and findings.

Liang said systems to respond to diversity had been seen as a soft, "kind of fluffy, nice to have" area to look at only if the budget allowed, but that was changing.

Andrew Hampton, the State Services Commission's government chief talent officer, said all ethnic groups are still under-represented at chief executive level.

"The ethnic and gender makeup of public service senior leadership - chief executives and tier-two managers - while still not representative of New Zealand society, is moving in the right direction."

What are they doing?
Police: Regularly contribute to ethnic media.

Customs: Hosted a "diversity and inclusion" month, including talks from experts on Auckland's changing diversity.

Ministry of Education: 10-week course of two-hour te reo sessions available to staff.

MBIE: Works with universities to talk to Maori and Pasifika students to present MBIE as a desirable career opportunity.

NZ must protect Maori, Flavell says

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell says New Zealand needs to be courageous and push for constitutional reforms to protect the Treaty of Waitangi and status of Maori as they face being outnumbered by other ethnicities seeking political power sharing.

In the Superdiversity Stocktake, Mai Chen says the Treaty of Waitangi and status of Maori as tangata whenua "have ensured that biculturalism trumps multiculturalism in law and public policy".

She questions whether that will change by 2038 when the number of Asians in New Zealand are expected to outnumber Maori and there are changes in political representation and power.

She points at measures such as Maori seats in Parliament and Auckland Council's Maori board. Other major minority groups - Asians and Pacific peoples - did not necessarily identify with the Crown or Maori.

"These groups may question why Maori are provided with greater funding and a greater ongoing role in political decision-making, even after Treaty grievances have been resolved.

"If these groups were to vote on ethnic lines, it will be difficult for the Government to continue to prefer Maori and it may be difficult for Maori to gain majority support for Maori and Treaty issues, including through legislation."

Steven Young, the Wellington president of the NZ Chinese Association, said Asians were aware of the need to integrate and resilient enough not to dwell on perceived unfairness.

"But to really have the Asian population be fully committed to New Zealand they would not want to see that disadvantage locked in." He said it was almost inevitable the Treaty would be incorporated into a constitution if New Zealand became a republic.

Treaty Minister and Attorney General Chris Finlayson said increased diversity would not erode the status of Maori or the relationship with the Crown.

"Of course the country will become more diverse, but I don't think such an important and fundamental relationship will alter. Biculturalism is a fundamental tenet of New Zealand."

If there was disquiet among migrants over the status of Maori, it was misplaced, he said, adding that if the Government washed its hands of ongoing responsibility under the Treaty after settlements were done, it would be "an invitation to strife".

The Asia NZ Foundation surveys on attitudes have shown Maori tend to view Asian immigration less favourably than the wider population. Mr Flavell said that was largely due to a lack of social interaction between the groups.

Mr Young also pointed to that lack of interaction and suggested Chinese groups take proactive steps such as visiting Waitangi on Waitangi Day.

Te Ururoa Flavell. Photo / Paul Taylor
Te Ururoa Flavell. Photo / Paul Taylor

Council on path to inclusiveness

When it comes to diversity in the Super City, a good place to start is the library.
Libraries cottoned on early to the changing face of Auckland and provided shelf space for books in different languages.

It was a simple move for a city which has moved from a predominantly European/Maori/Pasifika population to more than 200 ethnic groups in no time at all.

Unlike Vancouver, which Massey University sociologist Paul Spooley says considers diversity in everything local government does, Auckland Council is still coming to grips with change. Yes, there are books in Mandarin and Spanish in libraries and copies of the Unitary Plan in several languages, but the city is still predominantly run by white men.

The Herald reported in July that 88 of the 99 chief executive and board positions are occupied by white men. All of the council and council-controlled organisation (CCO) chairs are white men and just one chief executive, Watercare's Raveen Jaduram, has an ethnic background (Fijian Indian).

Pip Ball, head of organisational development at council, says steps are being taken to create a diverse organisation, including a diversity council that advises the executive team and ensuring future leaders can work with multiple cultures.

The council operates a cadet programme that comprised 80 per cent Pasifika last year and practises reverse mentoring where young Asian, Pasifika and Maori staff feed their perspectives to leaders, she said.

Mayor Len Brown, who has promised to build a city proud of its diversity, regularly attends ethnic events, such as the hugely successful Diwali and Lantern festivals.
"You want this stuff to work straight out of the blocks, but it takes a while to really move the ship around," said the mayor.

Dr Carina Meares, a senior social researcher at the council, said work is ongoing to understand changing demographics, new communities and how council can help those people.

One project was understanding the role and function of the Balmoral shops located halfway down Dominion Rd. Of 31 businesses, 28 were run by people not born in New Zealand.

Alongside a central-local government agreement for helping migrants settle in Auckland, the council is able to help migrants set up a business and understand the regulatory process, she said.

In her report, Mai Chen says one measure the Super City has implemented to improve political engagement with ethnic minorities is the establishment of advisory bodies, including the Independent Maori Statutory Board and panels for Pacific and ethnic peoples.

She said the value of the panels has been questioned. Ethnic advisory panel chairman Feroz Ali resigned in March, citing concerns that the panel only existed for "token consultation" and was a waste of ratepayers' money. Another member resigned days later.

Ethnicity is not recorded at local body elections, but research shows Asian and other ethnic groups have a lower voter turnout than Europeans. At next year's elections the council's awareness campaign will focus on the 18-39 age group, which contains a lot of ethnic groups.

The council is considering recording videos to be shared on social media in Mandarin, Hindi and Samoan explaining what it does and why it is important to vote.

The series
Monday: Changing faces

Tuesday: Changing learning

Yesterday: Changing families

Today: Changing democracy

Tomorrow: Changing business

Saturday: Changing future