A slice of heaven: New Zealand and immigration

Massey University and RNZ

Episode one of a four-part podcast series for RNZ, in association with Massey University, in which Noelle McCarthy investigates the state of immigration in New Zealand.

With record migration and a fast growing population, Aotearoa/New Zealand is changing. How that will look depends upon the interplay between people here now and those who want to come.

You can subscribe or listen to every Slice of Heaven podcast on iTunes, Spotify or at radionz.co.nz/series.

So who is coming and does it matter? What is the ideal number of people, what benefits will we see and where are the potential flash points? Can we rely on political leadership to steer us in the right direction?

In this four-part podcast series for RNZ in association with Massey University, Noelle McCarthy investigates the state of immigration in New Zealand and asks - when it comes to our Slice of Heaven, is there enough to go around?

The choices we've made about immigration have shaped the country New Zealand has become.  The choices we're making now will impact our future in ways we can only dimly perceive. 

A conversation with immigration expert Professor Paul Spoonley, that kept circling back to these two ideas, was the jumping off point for Slice of Heaven, a four part podcast series about immigration made for RNZ in association with Massey University

"We've been here for a 1000 years. You guys have been here for 200 years. We're all immigrants." - Leonie Hayden.
RNZ

"We've been here for a 1000 years. You guys have been here for 200 years. We're all immigrants." - Leonie Hayden.

At a time when more migrants are coming to New Zealand than ever before we've spoken to people from Kaitaia to Invercargill and various points in between about their experiences of immigration.  We've interviewed academics and economists, politicians and people in rugby clubs, dairy workers and construction companies, church groups, iwi and more besides. 

We ended up talking to more than 60 people and we tried to go into each of those conversations with open minds.  All the same, many of them said things that surprised us – how their perception of immigration was altered by knock-on effects that are complex and sometimes confusing.  We had a young Indian man crying in the studio as he described the mental stress involved in getting residency.  And we had an interviewee who was careful to wait until we'd stopped recording before saying "Auckland liberals talk about diversity and that's fine but where I'm from I see homeless Māori sleeping in the streets."  

This wasn't grandstanding – if anything they were apologetic about saying something so potentially inflammatory. But after years of dealing with the sharp end of social issues their frustration with a one dimensional view of immigration was clear.  "And the people living in what used to be their homes are immigrants."

"If we want to say we don't Chinese people, then we should bloody well say it." - Shamubeel Eaqub, economist and author.
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"If we want to say we don't Chinese people, then we should bloody well say it." - Shamubeel Eaqub, economist and author.

Unintended consequences have a large part in any story about immigration: calculations – economic, political, moral – don't always play out the way we'd hoped. 

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One of the first things historian Jock Phillips told us was that Māori, who outnumbered Pakeha 50 to one in 1840, couldn't have conceived of the possibility that they might be swamped demographically in such a short time after signing the Treaty of Waitangi.  Still, recognising that the future is uncertain won't stop it arriving, one way or the other.

New Zealanders know that we can't let everyone in and we can't keep everyone out.  We're always going to have to draw a line somewhere.  So: where, exactly?  That is a legitimate, important question for any society.  It's an issue that's resonating around the world and played a key role in the twin political shocks of the last eighteen months – Trump and Brexit. 

"Immigration is an issue that rears up as soon as you look at why we have 90,000 15-24 year old's out of work." - Alan ...
RNZ

"Immigration is an issue that rears up as soon as you look at why we have 90,000 15-24 year old's out of work." - Alan Johnson, the Salvation Army.

It's complicated because the debate has become increasingly divisive, charged with a dark energy as accusations of racism and dangerous idealism push people into polarised, entrenched positions. 

Slice of Heaven aims to bring a bit of perspective to this discussion.  We wanted to make this series because we could see the way immigration had become a wedge issue elsewhere, a way of dividing people and how that could become poisonous. 

While we live in New Zealand we are both holders of foreign passports, who have spent years in countries of choice rather than birth.  One of us is a Kiwi, the other "just" a permanent resident – for now, anyway. We're about to have a baby who will, as it stands, have a different nationality than her Mum. Some immigrants are more welcome than others and we've certainly benefited from that perception - that was one of the big things we learned.

"To try and say that immigration is not a matter of race is plain stupid." - Winston Peters, MP.
RNZ

"To try and say that immigration is not a matter of race is plain stupid." - Winston Peters, MP.

Both of us are a part of this story, inevitably.  We all are.

Over the next four episodes we'll take you on a journey through New Zealand, talking about where we've come from and where we're going. Hopefully that will leave us all with a better understanding of the kinds of questions we should be asking ourselves and our politicians. 

This story was produced for RNZ National by Noelle McCarthy and John Daniell for Bird of Paradise Productions Limited  in association with Massey University. The executive producers were Justin Gregory and Tim Watkin. This episode used archival audio from Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision. You can subscribe or listen to every Slice of Heaven podcast on iTunes, Spotify or at radionz.co.nz/series.

A Slice Of Heaven was produced in association with Massey University.

A Slice Of Heaven was produced in association with Massey University.

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