There is a lot of commentary regarding New Zealand First’s proposal of a ‘Respecting New Zealand Values Bill’ which emerged out of a popular vote for the remit to be considered for policy.
The values mentioned include respect for gender equality, legal sexual preferences, freedom of religion and, perhaps the most asinine, the freedom to drink booze.
At face value, there is no argument. It is beyond doubt that there are many cultures whose traditions, culture and religion clash with western standards. And that division is apparent in Europe and other countries with large immigrant populations.
But here’s my issue: It is dog-whistle politics. An impractical PR stunt which even the Minister of Internal Affairs (an NZF MP) has said is unnecessary. We have laws for a reason; and unlike NZF they don’t discriminate. The foundation of our legal system is our values, and while it changes slowly it does eventually catch up with modern norms. People who break the law learn pretty quickly what our values are.
What frustrates me is the underlying message, and something I will address extensively before this idea has time to manifest. Entertaining the idea of forcing others to live by ‘our values’ implies that immigrants are unworthy, and they will automatically degrade New Zealand by merely existing. It’s virtue signalling at its worst. The only audience this appeals to is patriotic New Zealanders who think immigrants are degrading the country. This is wrong. Most immigrants in New Zealand (particularly refugees) contribute far more over their lifetime than the average ‘Kiwi’.
The idea of forcing immigrants to conform promotes two things; that people who arrive in New Zealand are somehow exempt from the laws we have in place to protect liberty and that immigrants who arrive in New Zealand are a threat.
As a Kiwi who is now living in Nepal, I could argue that in some respects the people I’ve met here have better values than some Kiwis. In other ways they’re worse. The point is that every place, every person, is unique. ‘Our values’ implies that we are a homogenous group who all conform to the same identity. It’s condescending and it’s ludicrous. Sure, we as a country love rugby. But I know people who don’t. Of course, who can forget Fish n’ Chips? Some people despise it. Christianity? It’s already beaten by atheists.
Our values are not generalisations drawn from the national character we see promoted on TV. Our values are the composition of millions of individuals who are each distinct, who each contribute in their own way and live their life as they choose. If themes emerge, it is through implicit consensus. And I have not yet seen a consensus for shoving our ‘values’ down the throats of recent arrivals.
We should not needlessly isolate people who want to live in New Zealand. This does nothing except pander to those who see ‘others’ as a threat to ‘our’ lifestyle. If immigrants are a genuine threat, they will either not be allowed here or what they do illegal. All this would do is legitimise the myth that western civilisation is crumbling; and while there are genuine concerns with security overseas there is nothing that compares here. Suddenly seeing a mosque in your neighbourhood is not something that I would consider a threat – it is a monument to diversity.
Hate breeds hate. We should be welcoming immigrants who want to work and live in New Zealand, in Aotearoa; because if we greet them at the airport demanding they conform to arbitrary values that politicians create then resentment will build.
I like to think that one of our values is to call out bulls**t when we see it. This rhetoric is purely for the limelight, with tones of racism. What I value are compassion and inclusivity. I also like to think New Zealand values integrity – so if we’re screening, let’s not have a double standard. Let’s test everyone. Because we should treat all races the same, right Winston?
Damon Rusden is a chef, journalist and law student with an avid belief in civic education and accountability. He was also a Green Party candidate.