Monday, July 31, 2006

A Brash Reception

Passionate, well-informed, articulate, even witty. These are not words you normally associate with New Zealand media columnists. And you can be assured I would not use them within a mile of the heavily recycled bitterness and negativity served by up by the likes of the McLeod / du Fresne / Haden axis.But they do sit pretty well when applied to Public Address blogger Tze Ming Mok, who has also recently started writing a column for the Sunday Star Times.

Once I get past the inevitable surge of Martin Amisian envy at someone who is younger than me, writes excellently, attracts an audience, and gets paid for doing it, I have to like her style.The things I particularly admire about Tze Ming are her obvious intelligence, her (sometimes over-enthusiastically expressed) sense of outrage, and - perhaps aided by her oft-analysed Chinese-New Zealander perspective - her readiness to point out that received wisdom about New Zealand and its culture is often bullshit.

My specific reason for mentioning this right now is that I had an almost identical response as she did to an opinion piece on immigration by Don Brash in the New Zealand Herald.

Brash actually says a good deal in his speech that I agree with, nowhere more so than where he criticizes the horrendous, Kafkaesque treatment handed out to prospective applicants for New Zealand residency, notably to foreign-born spouses of current citizens. I've seen some good examples of rhetoric and action heading off in opposite directions. But no gulf greater than that between public pronouncements that the country wants to attract motivated migrants - in particular to reclaim its own exiles - and the bizarre bureaucratic hoops that such people are made to jump through.

Read some of Brash's examples (plus the reader comment), and tell me you don't know of similar examples within two degrees of personal separation. Dumbly draconian policies, apparently enforced by sadistic fools.

I guess there may be a risk of New Zealand-resident serial bridegrooms conspiring to bring in a string of undesirables as their spouses. But you'd think there'd be a better way of controlling for this than demanding that a Kiwi and his wife of nine years, with two children, provide proof that they have an exclusive sexual relationship.

So much for being welcomed to NZ with open arms. You'd have an easier time opening a French bank account.

As heartening as it is to see Brash take on some actual, genuine examples of public sector incompetence and stupidity, he ruins it all the end with this concluding paragraph:

It's important to recognise that there's an implied contract between New Zealand and would-be citizens: New Zealand offers you citizenship with all the rights and privileges of being in every respect a Kiwi, but in return you owe New Zealand your loyalty and commitment. You can't be a New Zealander and seek to undermine New Zealand. You can't be a New Zealander and claim that some other law takes precedence over the law of the New Zealand Parliament. You can't be a New Zealander and write to foreign newspapers urging a boycott of New Zealand exports, as one would-be citizen did recently in reaction to the publication by two newspapers of some cartoons satirizing Mohammed.

Tze Ming and others have done a much better (and earlier) job than I could at critiquing this, but I will utter this exclamation: What? Is he serious?

Here was I, thinking he was arguing we should largely, apart from in special categories, accept people who will be of net benefit to the country. But then, having already won on the deal, he wants to hold immigrants to a higher standard of “loyalty and commitment” than other citizens?

Any citizen of this country can properly be expected to obey the law of the New Zealand Parliament (including things like the Human Rights Act), but surely not to believe that it “takes precendence” over all other law. Can a Christian who believes that God's law overrules all others, not be a New Zealander?

And if there is some narrow definition of “New Zealand interests” that basically equates to “export earnings”, does that necessarily make traitors of the likes of Keith Locke and others who upset Chinese trade delegations, rather than, as many see them, brave and principled New Zealanders?”

Dear me, should a recent South African immigrant not be allowed to support the Springboks against the All Blacks?

Having argued that there are a core set of “our values” which include freedom of conscience, thought and speech, Brash is effectively saying that immigrants to Aotearoa should cleave to the nation state with the kind of blind and absolute loyalty demanded by a tribal chieftain.

In response, I would suggest that if there's anything which drags hard-working, smart people down to this draughty spot at the bottom of the world, it just might be that they're attracted by the well-known New Zealand tradition of thinking and saying what you bloody well want.

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