Tonga is still being used and abused by New Zealand


The trivial amounts of money the government has announced so far to assist the immediate crisis in Tonga from this month’s volcanic eruption and tsunami underlines the deeply dysfunctional and racist relationship we have with our closest Pacific neighbour.

More money from the government will be drip-fed to help with the rebuild but it will be left to low-income Tongan families here to provide the most meaningful help going forward.


Our racist relationship with Tonga has a long history. We have accepted some of this with the government’s apology for the infamous dawn raids under which Labour and National governments of the 1970s targeted Tongan and Samoan overstayers while largely ignoring overstayers from other parts of the world. Happy to welcome these low-paid workers when New Zealand needed them, the government was keen to kick them out when we faced an economic downturn. Police and immigration officials compounded the racist enforcement of immigration laws with random stopping of Pacific people on the streets to carry out checks on their immigration status. (“It’s easy to pick out a Jersey cow in a herd of Friesians” said a National Party minister at the time in defence of the policy targeting Pasifika)


Nothing much has changed in our relationship with Tonga and Samoa since those days. We still regard the Pacific as a source of cheap labour when we need it. We welcome RSE (Recognised Seasonal Employer) workers in each year for seasonal work in horticulture and vineyards.


Employers love the scheme because it means they have access to low-paid, un-unionized workers – a form of modern-day slavery or indentured Labour. It is similarly structured to work visas for others coming here where the visa is tied to a specific employer and the worker’s right to be here is by grace and favour of the employer. It’s a system which is ruthlessly exploited by employers – using the threat of losing their visa for any complaints about wages, hours and conditions of work or health and safety issues.

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So why don’t we treat workers from Tonga and Samoa the same as we treat Australians?

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 and work in 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 closest Pacific neighbours rather than Australia.

And before anyone starts ranting about such a policy flooding New Zealand with unskilled workers remember workers from places like the Cook Islands and Niue already enjoy the right to freely come and go and also that in past times of high unemployment here we have seen more Pacific families leave New Zealand than arrive.

But we persist with a racially-biased policy – putting our majority-white Australian neighbours well ahead of Tongan and Samoan families who get it in both sides of the neck – we refuse to provide significant money for genuine development while refusing them access to work here in other than in slave-like conditions.

It’s racism pure and simple.


  1. Tonga is, or was, an independent country. The subjugation of Tonga (via debt peonage) by China is a far more serious issue I think, not to mention their out and out racism towards the Tongan people.

    • Agreed, except that it’s a good reason why NZ should be/should have shown more interest in its Pacific neighbours.
      INZ and other agencies have always carried out the wishes of our ‘so-called former’ imperial masters.
      And from what I’m told – by former employees of the Ministry for Everything, immigration lawyers (the genuine ones), and those ripped off by the cistern – it’s actually got worse since Labour has been at the helm.

      I long for the day when they (Labour) are able to get their bullshit detectors repaired.

  2. the main way we oppress tongans (and other pacific nations) is shovelling money to the ruling elites then saying asking for accountability for those monies is racist, they will never change whilst we fund feudal societies and their people will continue to suffer.
    The current crisis is symptomatic and entirely predictable and could have been ameleorated with forward planning but hey the kings palace in auckland is more important….of course we can’t let people starve but constant ‘white knighting’ helps no one in the long run.

  3. Yes it’s terrible racist policy all Pacifica populations should be able to come and go freely, Covid permitting. You bring up a good point about the RSE policy, what are the checks and balances?

  4. We won’t move forward if we keep looking back. I have a mate from Tonga and am pleased that the government has allocated funds to assist in the natural disaster.

  5. I wonder if Tongan and Samoan politicians would welcome unrestricted access to NZ for their citizens? They would lose an even greater percentage of their population, as Cook Islands and Niue have done. It might also affect their language retention. Cook Islands have suffered considerable language loss historically, although i don’t pretend to know how it is going now.
    We should end free movement between NZ and OZ though. NZers in Oz are second class non-citizens and as such have a greater propensity to develop social problems, which then gets thrown back on us. And then, as global heating makes Oz less livable we might be over-run by refugees from there (and we all know how Oz believes refugees should be treated – maybe Nauru would accept them).
    Opening up to Samoa and Tonga, on the other hand might provoke Oz to end the open door relationship – they have never much liked brown immigration through NZ. So we might end up in a much better place by doing just as John suggests. And yes the RSE scheme sucks as it is.

    • yup hordes of cashed up Aussie rednecks would really fuck up NZ, the right would welcome them with open arms as kindred souls.
      sort our immigration laws and stop being open house to those with a cheque book, our immigration policy is the 5dollar crack whore of the western world.
      I say this as a 25yr Kiwi citizen…so can the ‘racist allegations’

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