Pasifika, Polyfest and our racially-biased immigration policy






Trick question – there is no difference.

Along with 100,000 other Aucklanders I’ll be going to Pasifika at Western Springs Park today.

It’s a highlight of the year to visit this marvellous festival where the Pacific community comes in – mainly from South and West Auckland – for a festival of music, dance and my favourite Pacific food (watermelons with the pulp removed and replaced with tropical fruits and icecream – aaahhh!!!)

It’s a big week for these families because they’ll be out in force next weekend as well at the Otara Velodrome for the annual Polyfest. If you’ve never been then make a point of going this year.

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Competition takes place on five stages (Maori, Cook Island, Niuean, Samoan and Tongan) with a further “diversity stage” where Chinese, Tuvaluan and Indian student groups will perform.

The first festival was held at Hillary College in 1975 with just four schools. It’s now mushroomed to the point it’s hailed as “the largest Maori & Pacific Island cultural festival of its kind in the world” with 59 schools, 200 performing groups and over 9,000 students taking part over the four days from this Wednesday to Saturday – 13th to 16th March.

The growth of the festival in many ways reflects the growth of our Pacific Island community and this week is a good time to reflect on the huge contribution they have made to New Zealand.

People my age will remember the shameful treatment meted out to Pacific Islanders by Labour and National in the 1970’s. After welcoming Pacific workers into New Zealand to fill huge employment gaps in the 1960s, the growth of unemployment after the first oil shock and the entry of the UK into the European Union saw New Zealand governments look to scapegoat Pacific workers and their families. Anyone looking like a Pacific Islander was subject to random stopping by the police in the streets to check their immigration status.

In one highly publicised case a worker was stopped by police in Karangahape Road as he walked home from nightshift. His status was found to be OK but he was charged with theft because he had a plastic comb in his pocket which he said he’s taken from work. In fact he’d taken it from the reject bin which the company confirmed. It was cleared up but only after a court appearance.

When police were criticised for these random checks a National government minister told the country that if a Friesian cow (black and white markings) is in a herd of Jersey cows (light brown) then it’s natural for the police to check the Friesian. It was nothing less than racial harassment. The infamous “dawn raids” were another shameful feature of this period where Pacific families were subject early-morning roundups of overstayers for deportation.

A few years later National and Labour again showed contempt for the Pacific community when they colluded to pass legislation (the 1982 Samoan citizenship Act) to strip New Zealand citizenship rights – won in a Privy Council case – from Samoans born during the period New Zealand had administrative control of the territory following Germany’s defeat in the First World War (Samoa had been a Germany colony)

This blatant piece of racism still rankles with the Samoan community and rightly so because New Zealand continues to deal with the Samoan and Tongan communities in a racially-biased way.

An Australian can get off the plane and start work with no questions asked – no skills test, no check on job shortages for the work they want, nothing. It’s a very different story for Samoan and Tongan families wanting to come to New Zealand. They face highly restrictive entry with only a small quota of permanent immigrants allowed each year.

New Zealand is a Pacific country and our first immigration responsibility should be to our Pacific neighbours rather than Australia.

And before the rednecks rant about such a policy flooding New Zealand with unskilled workers remember that Cook Islanders and Niueans already enjoy the right to freely come and go and also that in past times of high unemployment we have seen more Pacific families leave New Zealand than arrive.

But still we persist with a racially-biased policy – putting Australians well ahead of Tongans and Samoan families. It’s not an immigrations skills issue – it’s an immigration race issue and it’s time our major political parties faced up to it.

Enjoy Pasifika and Polyfest and support an immigration policy which treats Samoan and Tongan communities with the dignity and respect they deserve.


  1. Absolutely agree John, the NZ immigration policy is racist and discriminatory. So few people are aware of the role of the Labour government with the dawn raids, it’s great to see their sordid history being exposed.
    I’d argue that the relatively open border with Australia is a good thing for workers and all people should be free to move across borders, not just around the Pacific. I hope that there comes a time when people – regardless of their country of origin – can move freely, and that we look back on immigration controls in horror, as we now regard slavery. It’s an artificial division of humanity. As long as there are immigration controls there will be detainment, deportations and more human misery.

  2. New Zealand is a Pacific country and our first immigration responsibility should be to our Pacific neighbours rather than Australia.

    What does the first half of this statement actually mean? I assume John isn’t suggesting what ocean you’re in drives your immigration policy so what’s the point of this slogan? Aren’t we a Tasman nation in any case?

    I think most NZers would assume our first immigration responsibility should be to NZers. Why should it be to anyone else? Starting from this basis having a more favourable arrangement with Australia makes a lot of sense. There is considerable benefit to NZers from our immigration arrangements with Australia. The same can’t be said for most South Pacific nations, like it or not they are poor and small and don’t offer NZers the same opportunities as Australia. Opening up our immigration to the Pacific Islands would do little but to make them poorer and smaller as we hollowed out their human capital. To assume it’s all about racism just ignores the basic realities of the circumstances of our Pacific neighbours, and, of course, shows a severe prejudice about those not holding views similar to John’s.

    In any case if it were simply a matter of racism why is the argument to open up immigration to Costa Rica, Cameroon and Cambodia as well?

  3. The ACT Party has recently announced it’s pitching to Asian voters with “hard work, thrift and enterprise”, or whatever they like to call it.

    In this context, by ‘Asian’ they really mean ‘model minorities’ with fat wallets and illiberal ‘Asian Values‘ – think Peter Low. In reality, the Asian vote in NZ is fragmented and politically diverse, especially among 1.5ers and 2nd Generationers.

    This whole notion of model minority is counter-productive in the long run, because of its exclusionary nature, as opposed to the inclusiveness of multi-culturalism. It was severely put to the test by the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

    Disclaimer: I am a direct descendant of Cantonese gold miners who flocked to Otago in the 19th century.

  4. “New Zealand is a Pacific country and our first immigration responsibility should be to our Pacific neighbours rather than Australia”

    Like Richard above, I too am troubled by this statement, although for slightly different reasons.

    I’m not persuaded that our ‘first’ immigration responsibility should be to persons from particular countries but rather that we should have immigration equality. To enact immigration policies that favour persons from particular countries is, in my view, discriminatory in itself although I also think there is a good case to be made for ‘affirmative action’ in respect of our Pacific Island neighbours. And I agree that our Pacific Island immigrants should not be treated as less valuable citizens than our Australian immigrants.

    In relation to what Richard has said above:

    Opening up our immigration to the Pacific Islands would do little but to make them poorer and smaller as we hollowed out their human capital

    I disagree. In my view, where we are born is contingent, therefore, the freedom of movement should not be restricted because of the risk of hollowing out human capital in a particular country.

  5. So I, my family and all our possessions should go back home to Melbourne? Rwc and all the Australia bating was bad enough. Now we have people singling us out.

    • No don’t go back to Melbourne – just add your voice to the call for the same rights being extended to Samoan and Tongan families

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