Tuesday, 28 April 2009

all nz'ers are equal, but some are more equal...

where were we? yes, ethnicity and the census. i remember there was a lot of heated debate about this prior to the last census. debate with politicians like hon gerry brownlee (then deputy leader of the opposition) and dick quax (ex olympic athlete & current city councillor) having plenty to say about the issue. i also recall a lovely open letter by our race relations commissioner to mr quax, wherein he waxed eloquently about his dutch heritage. unfortunately i can't locate a copy of it just now.

i think the context of that debate is quite interesting. we were just past the 2005 election, and dr don brash was still the leader of the opposition. we had still not recovered from dr brash's orewa speech which claimed that maori were a privileged class in our society - despite all major social indicators proving the contrary. during the 2005 campaign, we had gems such as the "end of tolerance" speech by rt hon winston peters and a rather nasty immigration speech by dr brash. we had the usual immigrant bashing, and the case of the 2 iraqi men named in parliament for allegedly having links to saddam hussein's regime (never proven as far as i know, but causing much grief to those 2 & their families). we had the ahmad zaoui debate raging, with the media regularly reporting the cost of the case, as if justice should only be provided if it's free. and post the election, we had the wonderful post of "PC-eradicator" filled by hon wayne mapp.

it was certainly not the best period for race relations in this country. having a debate about reporting of ethnicity in such an environment was less than helpful. the main beef was from white new zealanders (not all of them, of course), who really didn't want to be called white new zealanders, whether that was denoted by "european new zealander" or "pakeha" or some other label.

historically, the term "new zealander" had pretty much meant white new zealanders by default. then there were maori, and everyone else was generally treated as "foreign". even migrants who had lived here for 20 years or more used "new zealander" in this way, and would define themselves using their own ethnicity - islander, chinese, indian etc.

but there was an increasing recognition that these islanders, chinese, indians etc were also new zealanders and entitled to be called such. the term could no longer be appropriated by whiteys*, but had to apply equally to everyone. which then left the problem of how to define the whiteys in a way that they felt comfortable with. not surprisingly, there was little agreement about this.

in order to avoid having to agree to any kind of label, certain people started calling for the removal of ethnicity questions, not just from the census but from all forms of data gathering. "we're all new zealanders", the argument went, "and we shouldn't have to be identified as anything else". this was good - it side-stepped the whole labelling issue while sounding deceptively inclusive. anyone who disagreed was clearly racist and wanted to create division, under this particular framing. why did we need to identify our ethnicity anyway?

well, i can tell you why it's important. because there are inequalities. if pacific island women are, on average, earning less than other sectors of society, then we need to know about that and we need to do something about it. if asians are more often victims of violent crime than other ethnicities, then we need to know about that and we need to do something about it. if maori have a lower life expectancy than the rest of us, then we need to know about that and we need to do something about it. if islanders or asians have a greater tendency to contract diabetes, then we need to know about that and we need to do something about it.

but we can't do anything unless we first gather the data to identify the problem. in order to gather the data, we need to know about people's ethnicities. by failing to collect ethnicity data, we won't ever know whether or not any policies targetting particular ethnic gropus need to be developed and implemented. that doesn't mean the problem ceases to exist. all it means is that some sectors of society are suffering and the rest of us don't care enough to even find out about their condition.

of course it's not always easy to measure ethnicity. there are plenty of people of mixed parentage, say half maori & half dalmation (quite common up north, from what i hear). and there are some of us who identify with an ethnicity, even though we don't have much of it in us. so someone who is one eigth maori may identify as maori because they have been brought up in that particular culture and feel it more correctly reflects who they are. some of the definitions provided on various forms might not be helpful eg asian includes chinese (over a billion of them) and indian (some 800 million), and these two are quite distinct, with several ethnicities in each country. then there is the wonderful dept of statistics category "MELAA" (middle eastern, latin american and african) which again includes such a variety of ethnicities as to almost be meaningless. on the other hand, we can't design systems to deal with huge numbers of different ethnicities, so we do have to lump some ethnicities together in order to obtain any kind of meaninful results.

despite all of these problems, i still think it's important to measure ethnicity, and will continue to think so until such time as the average income of new zealanders is equal regardless of ethnicity; and the average life expectancy and infant mortality rates of all new zealanders are equal, regardless of ethnicity; and... well i think you get my point. where inequality exists, it needs to be measured. there's no point in pretending we're all equal when aren't yet, and might never be (particularly when it comes to genetic susceptibility to health issues). i know it's what we aspire to be, but until we have the proof that we have achieved that goal, data on ethnicity must be gathered.

so in the meantime, we need a way to distinguish whiteys from maori, pacific islanders, indians, chinese etc. and the term "new zealander" is not it, something else needs to be found. i thought pakeha was a pretty good and positive term, but others clearly don't see it that way. i do firmly believe that it is up to whiteys to come up with a term they feel comfortable with. but if they are not even willing to enter into such a debate because they see it as somehow insulting to even ask them to define their ethnicity, well that just makes things difficult. i'm tempted to say "well if you guys can't get your act together and come up with a label, then i'm quite happy to come up with one for you". unfortunately, i couldn't force anyone to use that label, so it would be a total waste of time.

so all i can do is to urge whiteys to enter into the debate. to see the importance of reporting on inequalities, and to enable such reporting to happen by identifying themselves with an ethnicity. do it for the greater good, because you will also benefit from a society where inequalities no longer exist.

*i use this term not to be derogatory or facetious but by default, because there is no other agreed upon term at present which nz'ers of caucasian ethnicity have been able to agree upon. really sorry if i cause offence.

Monday, 27 April 2009

ethnicity and the census

i've had a couple of posts up at the hand mirror: one i did last week on voluntary military service and another today on religion and gender equality. i found the latter one very difficult to write, and am not sure i've said it how i wanted to, but there you go.

this came through on aen today:

During the 2006 Census there was much debate about ethnicity, including a high-profile public campaign for the inclusion of a ‘New Zealander’ tick-box in the census ethnicity question.

Given the level of public concern and the need to ensure the ongoing quality and usefulness of statistical information gathered in the census, Statistics New Zealand decided to review the ethnicity measure through research and consultation.

Statistics New Zealand today released a discussion paper that details preliminary views of the issues and includes draft proposals to address them... Feedback is required by 25 May 2009.

i do have a lot of things to say about this, but maybe tomorrow.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

hidden costs

i started a post last night, but with other stuff needing to be done, i didn't get very far. so i'm starting again.

i did want to raise a couple of refugee issues that i heard at the waikato interfaith council AGM. one of the sad things was that the woman who spoke to us said that she didn't often share what she did for a job with people she didn't know well. the reason being that disclosing her job would often result in a 20 minute anti-immigrant tirade that she didn't have the energy to deal with. bringing people around to identifying with refugees is a time-consuming business, and not always successful.

there was an example of a refugee family moving into a state house in a more affluent neighbourhood. neighbours had written letters of protest before the family had even arrived in the country, in an attempt to prevent them from moving into that house. thankfully, things have improved but not without effort.

the speaker talked about the importance of faith for successful settlement. trying experiences have differing impacts on the level of faith - some refugees found they became stronger in their faith, others found they moved away from it. faith communities in nz have been very helpful in providing a support system and a network for these families.

the issue of trust was an interesting one. refugees understandably found it difficult to trust those in authority, and also to trust the new community they were coming to. some of this was based on fear, such as the fear that children would be subject to strong evangelical activity designed to convert them. these fears often act as a barrier, preventing them from forming strong relationships with local residents.

settlement services put a lot of effort into breaking down those barriers and helping to develop those relationships. the work of volunteers who mentor refugees is crucial and can lead to long-lasting friendships.

onto other things, i too am disappointed that nz wasn't represented at a government level at the durban conference on racism. i think this piece at larvatus prodeo raises an interesting issue:

As things stand, the boycott call has been taken up by the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, and according to Wikipedia by Sweden. The European Union and several of the EU’s member states are still considering their position. At any event it appears that the boycott of a UN conference on racism wll be confined almost exclusively to countries of the wealthy white West, including several former colonial powers who arguably have unfinished business in relation to their former colonies and the peoples thereof, and four products of British colonialism who certainly have unfinished business with their indigenous peoples.

the rest of the post and the comments section is well worth a read, if for nothing else than the fact that these issues were debated in a respectful manner. funny how it's more off at the leftwing blogs where the meaningful discussions can occur.

finally, a government that promised to boost jobs and the economy is busy cutting jobs in the public service. i'm feeling the direct effects of this at work, and with more cuts to come at inland revenue, things will only get worse. until last year, tax agents (accountants & the like) could get through to the IRD by phone within 10 minutes, and if you called at the right time of the day, you'd get through immediately.

now, call waiting times are usually around 15-20 minutes, and in order to avoid this wait, you can leave a message and someone will call you back. they do get back to you in an hour or so, which isn't too bad. but it's still annoying, because you have to put the file away, and then be interrupted from other work to go back to it when you get the call back. it adds time to the job.

but worse, many times the lines are so busy that you can't even leave a message and are told to call back at another time. that is just inexcusable. IRD had enough staff last year to answer calls, why can't they do it this year? again, it means adding time to the job, as you have to keep trying to get through.

these costs get passed on to our clients, who have to pay a higher bill because things are taking longer. so, while the government offers (measly) tax cuts on the one hand, they make you worse off because of these hidden costs which are never factored into any equation anywhere.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


i've had a pretty amazing day. aside from the mundane stuff of work, and getting one of the kids to the dentist, i went to a couple of inspiring events.

the first was a holocaust commemoration at the university of waikato. this came about as a result of a thesis published at the university which had elements of holocaust denial. after a pretty difficult period, the university ended up issuing an apology, and in return, the jewish community gifted the university a tree with a little memorial plaque, and a bench.

this was the scene of the commemoration to which i was invited as a member of the waikato interfaith council. i have to say that it was a difficult one to attend, cos i wasn't sure how i would be received. not to say that i expected any kind of hostility, but i thought that it would be uncomfortable. luckily, i knew several people from the jewish community who were there, and that made things easier.

it was certainly an experience, but i can't find quite the descriptor to say how i felt about it. i guess because my own feelings were pretty complex. i felt a lot of sympathy for the history that was recited and the pain suffered by those who lived at the time and their families who continue to remember them. and i felt the importance of continuing to remember that history, of keeping it alive and relevant because it does affect so many and because we all have so much to learn from it.

on the other hand, there were bits of the telling that i felt uncomfortable with, particularly the bits that strayed beyond the boundaries of europe. there wasn't very much of that, and i kept reminding myself what i was there for. i was there to share in something, to listen and to learn, to offer support and friendship, and i did that in the best way i could and sometimes staying silent is the best gift you can give.

while they were sharing their pain, which was considerable, i wanted also to share the pain of other peoples. i wanted to explain that i understood some of what they experienced, because the world is a pretty hostile place, and that hostility manifests itself in many ways. but i knew that this was not my time or place to share, that it wasn't appropriate in any way, so i left unsaid what should have been left unsaid.

and yet was left unsaid should be said in some other time or place. that sharing of another pain should happen, but where and how? how to bring people together, and create an atmosphere where they are willing and able to listen, and to be silent when silence is what is required? that is a challenge way beyond me right now.

in any case, i'm glad i went and i hope it did some good. there was an opportunity to speak, so i said a couple of sentences about the importance of teaspoons; the importance of making an effort, no matter how small it seems. it seemed appropriate.

later in the evening, after a parents' meeting for the religious class my children attend, i attended the AGM for the waikato interfaith. that was another kind of awesome, with a speech from the woman who runs the refugee settlement services in hamilton. i'll have to write about that tomorrow, because it's late and i really need a rest.

Saturday, 18 April 2009


while it looks like i've been taking an extended easter break, i have done a bit of writing. there's my post here at the hand mirror, which links to a piece i wrote here about child discipline in islam. i've also just posted another piece at the hand mirror about an excellent interview kim hill conducted this morning with john simpson, about his film "men's group".

i too have been caught up with the guilty plea and sentencing of tony vietch this week. i've found his comments and those of his lawyer pretty awful. i see in mr vietch a man who seeks redemption, who feels unfairly targetted, and who seems to crave attention. the news this evening that he has made another attempt to take his life just adds to the sadness of this whole story.

as many others have commented, it looks like he is receiving some very bad advice and very little of the actual support that he needs. his focus and that of his minders has been on preserving his career rather than on preserving his life and his dignity. his paid lawyers and consultants appear to be more focused on garnering publicity for themselves than on doing what's best for their client.

who can know what is going on in his mind these past few days. my own suspicion is that despite all the people around him, he's feeling pretty much alone right now. i won't waste my time offering useless tips on how he could have handled the situation better or what he should do from here on in (useless in that neither he nor anyone around him is likely to be taking that advice).

rather i wish both him and his former partner peace and a turning away of the spotlight so that they can both start to heal from this experience. to a large extent, this is in their own hands.

and i wonder at my own motivation in following this story so closely. not that i've watched any of the television interviews of mr vietch or ms dunne-powell, but found this segment of nine-to-noon very interesting. mostly i've followed the story from blogs and links in those blogs to news articles on-line. generally i don't follow tabloid gossip about celebrities with any interest, but somehow i can't keep away from this one.

perhaps it's the issue of domestic violence, in which i have an interest as a person opposed to violence and as a trustee of an organisation that supports victims of DV. it's also anger at some in the media and the public who blame the victim for what happened to her, or who try to minimise her suffering. or maybe it's just that natural human tendency which compels us to slow down and look when we see a car crash, even when we know it doesn't concern us and what we see won't be pretty.

Friday, 10 April 2009

taking part in research

i've posted at the hand mirror, about a nasty little incident that got me thinking today.

i realise that i forgot to link through to this post i did a while back on titles. the radio nz link will no longer be working by this time, but the main points are in the post.

one of my weaknesses is that i rarely say no to people who ask me to participate in research projects, particularly those working at the post-graduate level. it's mostly because i've been a student myself and know how hard it is to get people to take part in these things. they don't often take too much time, maybe an hour at the most, but i guess people don't often see the importance of social research. some of this is because of the poor way in which most research results are reported in the media, but also because anything that doesn't have a clear economic benefit is treated as being of little value in our current culture.

so i find that i will be taking part in two separate research projects this weekend, one by phone interview and the other a face-to-face interview. and here's another research project being undertaken by a good friend of mine, for those who meet the following requirements:
- one or both of your parents are of Indian ethnicity;
- you are either a permanent resident or citizen of New Zealand, or have a temporary work or study permit;
- you currently reside in New Zealand; and
- you are 15 years of age or older.

you can participate in the survey by clicking here.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

talking turkey

well i have to hand it to mr obama. the speech in turkey* was a cracker, a great step towards building relations with the muslim world. some of the good bits:

Turkey’s democracy is your own achievement. It was not forced upon you by any outside power, nor did it come without struggle and sacrifice...

Now, our two democracies are confronted by an unprecedented set of challenges. An economic crisis that recognizes no borders. Extremism that leads to the killing of innocent men, women and children. Strains on our energy supply and a changing climate. The proliferation of the world’s deadliest weapons, and the persistence of tragic conflict...

This much is certain: no one nation can confront these challenges alone, and all nations have a stake in overcoming them. That is why we must listen to one another, and seek common ground. That is why we must build on our mutual interests, and rise above our differences. We are stronger when we act together...

Let me be clear: the United States strongly supports Turkey’s bid to become a member of the European Union... And Turkey is bound to Europe by more than bridges over the Bosphorous. Centuries of shared history, culture, and commerce bring you together. Europe gains by diversity of ethnicity, tradition and faith – it is not diminished by it. And Turkish membership would broaden and strengthen Europe’s foundation once more...

For democracies cannot be static – they must move forward. Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state... An enduring commitment to the rule of law is the only way to achieve the security that comes from justice for all people. Robust minority rights let societies benefit from the full measure of contributions from all citizens.

I say this as the President of a country that not too long ago made it hard for someone who looks like me to vote. But it is precisely that capacity to change that enriches our countries. Every challenge that we face is more easily met if we tend to our own democratic foundation. This work is never over...

but this is the bit that is brave:

But I also want to be clear that America’s relationship with the Muslim work cannot and will not be based on opposition to al Qaeda. Far from it. We seek broad engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, bridge misunderstanding, and seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. And we will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over so many centuries to shape the world for the better – including my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their family, or have lived in a Muslim-majority country – I know, because I am one of them.

it's brave in the context of the vicious attacks he's had to face from the far right of being a muslim terrorist in disguise. the comments here to this washington post article is just a little taste of the less than enthusiastic response by some. (nice take-down of the article at the huffington post here.)

also heartening is a decision by the state of oklahoma to dismiss a bill that would have prevented muslim women from wearing headscarves for their driving license photos. which is in contrast to turkey, where until recently, women were prevented from wearing headscarves to university exams. turkey certainly have their own battle to protect their country from extremism, but i wish the battle didn't have to be fought by preventing women's freedoms.

*this was the first hit i got from a google search, it's not a site i've ever visited before.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

finsec petition

i'm feeling too lazy to post anything very serious today, so i'll just link to other stuff.

first is the finsec petition to keep banking jobs in nz, rather than having them outsourced to cheap labour overseas:

No one can deny the important role banks and finance companies play in the economy. That is why taxpayers are supporting the banks in these difficult times by guaranteeing their deposits and wholesale funding.

Despite this guarantee of their business, banks has made no such guarantee to their staff about job security. While the banks made combined profits in excess of $2.5 billion and CEOs recieve salary packages of more than $2 million each, banks continue to cut jobs and offshore work.

please download the petition from here (pdf) and get people to sign it. funny how the big job summit didn't come up with simple ideas like this for saving jobs. but OMG, that would mean some kind of regulation to keep those jobs in nz, and we couldn't possibly require big business to put the good of the nz economy & nz workers ahead of profits, could we?

also, the 11th down under feminist carnival is now up at whyi'mbitter's blog. looks like some really good reading, with a few posts from the hand mirror.

and finally, farewell to hon michael cullen (well, from parliament in a month's time). i've been a fan of his for many years, and i think there are few politicians who have his intellect, wit, courage, compassion and foresight. he left the country in a very good position to face the recession, and we might have survived in much better shape if he had been there to truly protect jobs and focus policy on those who needed help the most.

i know the house (and especially question time) is just not going to be the same without him. i think the best description i've heard of dr cullen was in an introduction by hon marian hobbs, who described him as "a great lover of the house". that sums it up nicely.

Monday, 6 April 2009

compulsory tea breaks now the law

i've posted at the hand mirror, a bit of a rant against some awful advertisements on our tv screens at the moment (AENers will know exactly what i'm talking about!).

it was a lovely weekend, and our open day for community radio on saturday went really well. amazingly, this was the first time that i'd ever barbequed sausages. i guess it's because BBQs are somehow male territory (not that i'm complaining, not one little bit!), so i've never had to venture near a lighted one. and working at a BBQ on a hot, sunny day is not a particularly good idea. but i survived, and we had heaps of people come through the station, so a good day overall.

and another bit of good news: the "voices of brazil" show is again a finalist for the radio awards. good luck guys, hope you get through.

on friday we celebrated the passing into law of the work breaks legislation on 1 april. it's now a legal requirement that employers must give workers tea breaks, as well as breaks for breastfeeding mums. this is good news for many employees who were never allowed a tea break. i remember my first full-time job, where the managers were brought tea or coffee at their desks and were expected to work through. restaurant staff often aren't given a break, and neither are many teachers who have to patrol the grounds during interval or prepare for the next class.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

what i've learnt

whew, tonight is the first free night i've had at home this week. i really was planning to have a quiet year this year and cut down my involvement in the various groups i'm involved with. but it just hasn't worked out that way.

monday i had 3 meetings back to back: a monthly community radio board meeting, the office of ethnic affairs workshop, then an AGM. i got home around 9pm, after having left at 8 in the morning. tuesday was a meet-the-teacher evening which went well, plus doing the usual chauffeuring that comes with parenthood! last night i had a social visit and a teleconference.

it's not that any of these things are stressful in themselves, and i did enjoy everything that i was involved in. i guess it's more of a mental thing, a feeling that my mind doesn't have a chance to reflect and relax. which was why the holiday in malaysia was so good. i'm sure i'm one of those people who has a hard time saying no, and i probably should refuse commitments much more often than i do. on the other hand, i feel a sense of responsibility towards the community i live in, and know the importance of helping to shape that community.

i was thinking this afternoon of all the experiences i've had because of community work, and the skills i've gained. earlier this year, i gained experience in interviewing prospective employees and choosing the best candidates, as part of my work with shama. there are plenty of other employment issues that keep cropping up, so i'm getting good experience at being an employer.

as a member of the legal aid review panel (which i was for three years), i learnt how to write legal stuff that could potentially be challenged in court. it had to be tight and clear, it involved researching previous cases and making sure the logic couldn't be faulted. it also involved working in a team.

as a trustee of community radio, i'm learning so much about radio broadcasting and about governance. it's a different type of role to shama, with different challenges. again, i'm an employer and have gained experience in conducting a performance review and in leading a strategic planning workshop.

my work with the labour party has given me a whole range of skills, i don't even know where to start! i think the biggest one is patience, and learning to put negative things aside to concentrate on the outcome you're looking for. politics certainly helps you to toughen up, and i'm still going through that toughening process! i still don't take criticism well, and i know that's something i have to work on. i look at rt hon helen clark, and her attitude to criticism: she's just so good at shrugging it off and carrying on, it's pretty amazing.

it's also helped to develop my negotiation skills, as well learning to put my own views aside and work for the greater good. that's often a hard one, as i find i have strong beliefs about various things, but if i can't convince a majority towards my view then i have to accept that and keep on working for the group.

competition is also not something i feel comfortable with. i'm a person who likes to work collaboratively, and i find it really hard to compete against people i've worked with and really like. it's such a strange situation, but i think i've gotten on top of it.

the interfaith work teaches me to be sensitive in what i say, and to learn to respect other ways of seeing the world. even when i totally disagree with them! it's such a good way to learn to value people for who they are and what they do, regardless of what they believe. it's an area where differences are strong and deep, which makes the positive interaction even more meaningful.

the islamic women's council has given me the opportunity to do a reasonable amount of media work. some of that work has been challenging, particularly because of the global environment in the last decade. but i've always been treated with respect, and remembering to never lose my temper has really helped.

with the blogs, i'm improving my writing and debating skills (i hope!). i still love writing, and there aren't many days when blogging feels like a chore. even on those days, once i start, it doesn't feel like a chore for long.

so there it is. i feel really lucky to have been involved with these various groups and to have met some truly amazing people along the way. some of them (like my co-bloggers & people who have commented on the blogs) i haven't even met in person, but the interaction is no less precious because it has happened only in this virtual world. i'm happy to be learning so much, in so many tangible and intangible ways.

yup, in this particular moment, i feel that life is good.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

congratulations helen

another post at the hand mirror today, about acknowledgement in parliament today of rt hon helen clark's achievements.

this post from the standard shows that tax cuts that aren't for the majority of new zealanders. what the herald table fails to mention is that there is a corresponding increase in ACC on the earners account, so that the person earning $100,000 will actually be getting around $18 per week and not $24.

i wonder when the majority (around 71% according to question time today) of new zealanders are going to realise that they are going to have to pay interest and principal payments through their taxes on a $1.4billion loan on tax cuts that they won't be getting. and that 30% of benefit of these cuts will be going to the top 3% of taxpayers ie those who need it least.

on another note,
this was a good piece on water quality by chris trotter.