For those of us who'd thought New Zealand had shed the shackles of the old "rugby, racing and beer" stereotype, it's been a bad few days.

First, our parliamentarians rush through a law permitting true believers to soak their breakfast Weet-Bix with beer, while watching the upcoming Rugby World Cup games.

Then the Prime Minister opens up Parliament Buildings last Sunday evening, to host the unveiling of the latest All Blacks team.

Then to complete the trifecta, we learn that if we choose to get rid of the old flag, the most likely substitute will be a rip-off of the All Blacks' team logo.


A thought. If we are to bind our national identity so closely to the national sport, might it not be wise to adopt an alternative flag to have in reserve, for those embarrassing weeks after the All Blacks come second and no one wants to be seen near a silver fern?

Given the Government's dogged refusal to increase the quota of refugees allowed across our borders, an obvious substitute flag comes to mind. One with a black background, decorated with rolls of razor wire. It would leave the world in no doubt what we thought of the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" of Statue of Liberty fame.

Not since the turmoil of World War II, when the world was last awash with so many refugees on the move - Prime Minister John Key's mother Ruth among them - has the civilised world faced such an immediate, practical and moral crisis.

An estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011.

This on top of the millions of Iraqis displaced following the 2003 US invasion of their country, which triggered the continuing regional bloodbath.

More than 3 million displaced persons are presently in camps in neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, while an exodus of biblical proportions is fleeing the area, crossing Turkey into Europe overland, and across the Mediterranean in rickety boats. At least 2500 have drowned on that escape route since January. The European Union is readying itself for an influx of 800,000 asylum seekers in 2015 alone.

Yet here, in this underpopulated green paradise, the Government keeps the drawbridge firmly up, insisting the yearly quota of 750 refugees - unchanged for 30 years - is fair.

With another 250 allowed in under family support and asylum categories, New Zealand has allowed a total of 5104 refugees in over the past five years.

Earlier in the year, Mr Key had to correct himself, after claiming 3000 to 4000 refugees were coming in each year. He said he'd got his numbers muddled. He seemed relaxed when he thought the number was 4000.

What a shame he didn't make it true.

What is missing is any sense of urgency, despite a nightly procession on our television screens of bodies found in abandoned freezer trucks, dead bodies floating in the sea, and processions of the doomed and despairing, trailing along European railway lines, too exhausted to run from harrying police.

Our Government is happy to spend $25.4 million on sending 143 soldiers to stir up the Iraqi hornets' nest, but has no extra money to assist the burgeoning flood of victims.

Meanwhile back home, the Government is happy to allow an expanding inflow of economic migrants, despite the obvious crisis it's causing in the Auckland housing market.

Statistics New Zealand recently revealed that 59,600 permanent and long-term new migrants had entered the country for the year to July.

The numbers for July alone were a record 5700.

The Government's only reaction to this pressure point is to offer higher bonus points to skilled migrants who promise to work outside Auckland for a year. For those with money in their pockets, the more, it seems, the merrier. Plus their dependants.

Would it be so hard to design a similar scheme to target refugees as well.

From all accounts, Syria and Iraq are whole nations on the move. Doctors, teachers, businessmen, nurses included - a whole cross section of society.

Refugees have enriched our society in the past. One even produced a son who became a Prime Minister.

They will again. If we're smart enough to let them in.

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