An unwelcome earworm from the immigration debate's stuck record

NZ First Party leader Winston Peters' recent run-in with a pair of "immigrant" journalists has set columnist Grant ...

NZ First Party leader Winston Peters' recent run-in with a pair of "immigrant" journalists has set columnist Grant Shimmin singing.

"He's like an old-fashioned racist

Obsessed with immigrants' ethnicity

Like an old-fashioned racist

And he wants to govern you and me."


OPINION: I don't know if songwriter Paul Williams or any of the members of Three Dog Night will ever read this, but if they do, I deeply and sincerely apologise to them for crudely reshaping the chorus of their catchy 1970s hit "An Old-Fashioned Love Song".

In doing so, I might have destroyed the song for some readers, and possibly for myself, so the circle of potential apology recipients is about as wide as it can be.

The trouble is, the tune, accompanied by my alternative first line, has been going around my head since Wednesday, when I first read ACT leader David Seymour's statement describing Winston Peters as "an old-fashioned racist" for his response to a New Zealand Herald story on immigration.

I should point out that Seymour is not someone whose pronouncements I usually take too seriously, and I was reminded of why about 24 hours later when he put out a press release responding to initial reports of US President Donald Trump's plan for taxes.

Included in the broad-brush outline doing the rounds on social media was a suggestion the business tax rate in the United States would be lowered to just 15 per cent.

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Seymour was, predictably, quick to sound a warning because New Zealand's business tax rate has long been an ACT bugbear. However his statement seemed, to my reading, to imply that businesses paying 28 per cent tax here might be tempted to shift operations to the "dumpster fire" (Americanism used deliberately) that is the United States under Trump and I found the suggestion hard to take seriously.

But his earlier statement responding to the Peters response seemed on point to me and it was his choice of phrase that gave me an adapted Three Dog Night earworm. I'm hoping writing this might help to exorcise it.

Just in case you haven't heard what Seymour was responding to, it was a New Zealand First press release headed "NZ Herald 'alternative facts' misleading over immigration".

Responding to a report on immigration by journalists Lincoln Tan and Harkanwal Singh, the statement's opening paragraph read: "New Zealand Herald propaganda written by two Asian immigrant reporters stating the top five source nations for work visas are not Asian is completely wrong and based on flawed analysis, says New Zealand First leader and Northland MP Rt Hon Winston Peters."

Exactly what Tan and Singh had written in their report, and even whether or not Peters might have a point, is not really the issue for me here, though I'd encourage you to seek it out in your own time.

The pair have mounted a considered defence to Peters' release and that has been backed up by their editor, Murray Kirkness, who pointed out that he too is an immigrant.

Peters, of course, has fired back, patronisingly referring to their news organisation as "Grannie (sic) Herald", telling the paper to "drop its dull-witted behaviour" and claiming to have "debunked" the pair's story.

Whether or not he actually has is not the province of this column. What is is his denial that his initial response was racist.

I'm sorry, but there's simply no way he can say that, having okayed the use of the phrase "by two Asian immigrant reporters" in the first paragraph. I have no doubt its inclusion was deliberate and in my view, that took it from being a discussion about the legitimacy of the conclusions in the article to an attempt to get the public focusing on the race of the reporters.

It's populist rhetoric right out of the Donald Trump playbook, though to be fair to him, Peters has been a politician, and using this kind of tactic, far longer than Donny Come Lately. He's appealing to what he knows will be a ready, if limited, audience.

It invites a kneejerk response from the public that, in my opinion, is inextricably tied to the race of the reporters in question, implying that they were biased in their approach because of their conclusion. That also implies that the conclusion is to their advantage because they're Asian. Why would that follow, I'd like to know? These two reporters are professional journalists and based their report on widely available figures. Peters hasn't questioned the conclusions they arrived at from those figures. He's said NZ First uses better figures, so it knows better.

As an immigrant myself, I wouldn't have as much of an issue with Peters' statement if he'd been an equal opportunity immigration critic, but I honestly can't recall one occasion in my 16 years here when he has criticised migrant numbers from [historically racist] South Africa, though 2800 of us arrived here in 2001, the year I made the move. Ditto for those, like Murray Kirkness, coming from Australia, or Britain.

In contrast, I have heard him canvass immigration from Asia on countless occasions. That's a racist approach, in my book.

Perhaps, as some have suggested, Peters was simply trying to reclaim centre stage on immigration, his traditional pre-election focus, ahead of this year's general election, having seen the country's two major parties focusing strongly on it in the last month. Even so, he chose a rusty, blunt instrument with which to wade into the debate.


"He's like an old-fashioned racist

Obsessed with immigrants' ethnicity

Like an old-fashioned racist

And I'm sure there will be more for all to see."

 - Stuff


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