Story: Ethnic and religious intolerance

Page 5. Anti-Asian politics

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New Asian migration

Concerns about the arrival of Asians surfaced again in the 1990s. Changes to immigration policy in 1986 and 1987 based the selection of immigrants on skills, not country of origin. There was a significant increase in immigration from Asia. The first wave of arrivals in the early 1990s were mainly from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea. After 2000 China and India provided many of New Zealand’s migrants. By 2006 there were over 350,000 New Zealand residents of Asian ethnicity – 9.2% of the population.

Community concern

In 1993 Auckland community newspapers published articles by journalists Pat Booth and Yvonne Martin on the ‘Inv-Asian’. A number of groups formed to oppose Asian immigration, and the New Zealand Party, led by Winston Peters, campaigned in the 1996 election against the current levels of immigration and ‘non-traditional’ immigrants.

There was concern at a range of issues – everything from the driving practices of Asians to the impact of non-English speakers on schools. Much public comment echoed the ‘yellow peril’ concerns of a century earlier.

Race-hate murder

Racial violence in the 2000s has been very rare. But in 2003, 25-year-old Korean economics student Jae Hyeon Kim was murdered by white supremacists while hitchhiking from Westport to Greymouth. The Reverend Taeil Choi of a Nelson Korean church suggested that for Jae Hyeon Kim’s sake, the country should commit itself to becoming ‘a place where all cultures and all people are tolerated equally’1.

Growing tolerance

Public opinion became more tolerant in the early 21st century. In an Asia New Zealand Foundation study of 2008, 85% of New Zealanders agreed that Asian people contributed to New Zealand’s economy, and 82% agreed that they brought cultural diversity to the country. In 2014, 4% of MPs in Parliament were Asian.

Not all New Zealanders were convinced of the Asian contribution. A minority of people (14%) still thought too many Chinese were coming to New Zealand and 6% believed they did not become assimilated because they lived by their own rules. A 2009 poll suggested that 75% of people thought Asians experienced some discrimination, and 28% believed they suffered the greatest discrimination of all groups.

By the 2010s New Zealand had a far more varied ethnic make-up than a century before – in 2013 over 34% of New Zealanders declared their ethnicity as Māori, Asian or Pacific. There was less explicit racial intolerance. The country had an annual Race Relations Day on 21 March – the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and in 2015/16 the Human Rights Commission received 282 complaints or enquiries about discrimination on the basis of race, colour, ethnic or national origin – down from 338 in 2014.

The Human Rights Commission facilitates the New Zealand Diversity Action Programme: Te Ngira. Established in 2004, this programme works to foster positive relationships between diverse peoples and fulfill the promise of the Treaty of Waitangi. The Commission also sponsors the New Zealand Diversity Action Awards directed at rewarding action by a range of groups that contributes to better relationships among New Zealanders of diverse ethnicity and religious beliefs.

The different stories of New Zealanders with diverse ethnic backgrounds were recorded as part of the #ThatsUsNZ initiative in 2016/17. Personal stories of casual racism and of starting a new life in New Zealand highlight informal and casual forms of discrimination.

Immigration and housing

In 2015, as house prices rose steeply in Auckland as a consequence of rising demand and limited supply, issues relating to Chinese purchases of domestic housing became headline news. Labour Party housing spokesperson, Phil Twyford, released data from a real estate firm in July 2015 that suggested that almost 40% of houses in a 3 month period were purchased by people with Chinese names. The implication was that offshore Chinese buyers were driving up the cost of Auckland homes because ethnic Chinese were only 9% of the population in the Auckland region.

The Labour Party were criticised for using questionable information to “scapegoat” Chinese home buyers in ways that verged on racism. Some commentators argued that the bulk of recent permanent and long-term immigrants were Chinese and Indian and this could explain their representation among house buyers.

From October 2015, foreign buyers had to register with Inland Revenue before buying property in New Zealand and have a New Zealand bank account. Data from Land Information New Zealand in May 2016 suggested that overseas Chinese buyers were the biggest investors among foreign buyers in New Zealand homes in the first quarter of 2016 and 58% of foreign buyers in the Auckland region. However, overseas buyers were only 3% of all home buyers in early 2016.

Footnotes:
  1. Quoted in Tūī tūī tuituiā: race relations in 2008. Auckland: Human Rights Commission, 2009, p. 23. Back
How to cite this page:

Paul Spoonley, 'Ethnic and religious intolerance - Anti-Asian politics', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/ethnic-and-religious-intolerance/page-5 (accessed 23 September 2017)

Story by Paul Spoonley, published 5 May 2011, updated 1 Aug 2017