New Zealand First’s values

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 5 October 2018

It does not happen too often that politicians do what I want them to do. It is even stranger when this almost makes me change my mind.

New Zealand First’s Respecting New Zealand Values Bill has achieved this remarkable feat.

When I received my permanent resident visa three years ago, I wrote an NBR column about the experience. What irritated me at the time were two things. First, that I received it with no sort of welcome letter. And second, that I never had to pledge anything to New Zealand in return.

The contrast with Australia, where I previously held such a visa, was strong. There I had to sign an Australian values statement which stated the basic rules of Australian life. Among them were freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion, commitment to the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, and equality of men and women.

As my column argued, requiring such a symbolic act of migrants is a national reassurance. “The public needs to know that whoever comes to New Zealand as a migrant or an investor will not change the New Zealand way,” I wrote.

It is the same argument that New Zealand First have now made to support their Bill, which MP Clayton Mitchell wants to introduce to Parliament. And yet, the details of the Bill make me wonder whether it is such a good idea after all.

Besides those items from the Australian values statement, the New Zealand First Bill requires migrants to commit not to campaign against alcohol consumption.

As a liberal, I believe that in our free land, people should have the right to drink alcohol.

However, there was of course a temperance movement in 19th century New Zealand. That makes it hard to argue that campaigning against alcohol was un-kiwi. The only difference is that campaigners back then were mainly Protestant whereas modern campaigners might be Muslim. But maybe that is the point of the Bill.

To make matters worse, any meaningful value statement must include support for parliamentary democracy. But how credible is this coming from a party that just pushed its waka-jumping legislation through Parliament?

When I wrote in favour of a values statement, I had the democratic and liberal clarity of Australia’s statement in mind. To see what New Zealand politics can do to it now makes me wonder whether something like that would ever be possible in New Zealand.

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