By Simon Collins
Taiwan-born lawyer Mai Chen says New Zealand needs a deliberate “multicultural policy” to counter anti-migrant hostility and benefit from the current record immigration inflow.
She told an annual business breakfast at Auckland’s St Matthew in the City today that a survey of NZ Asian leaders found that the country was not always welcoming.
“There is more open hostility and discrimination now in Auckland than they have ever experienced,” she said.
“There is a diversity dividend available from, for example, employing people from the countries you are exporting to. But if we don’t invest in it, we will not get the dividend.”
New Zealand had a record net inflow of 60,300 migrants in the year to August, including a net inflow of 34,500 from Asia. But Ms Chen said that once they came here, Asians earned 24 per cent less than the NZ average.
“Asians with a bachelor’s degree are three times more likely to be working as a clerk – 33 per cent versus a national average of 11 per cent. In other words, they are over-qualified for their jobs,” she said.
“Asian women earn 22 per cent less than European males, European women earn 16 per cent less than European males. We are cutting off our noses to spite our face.”
She said Asian investors told her they would invest more if they had advice on where to invest, but there was no system to provide that advice.
Instead, last week’s Government decision to veto a proposed Chinese purchase of Lochinver Station, against official advice, was “highly unusual”.
So were two current prosecutions by the Overseas Investment Office for alleged breaches of the Overseas Investment Act by Australian-owned Carbon Conscious NZ Ltd and NZ-owned Katey LR Investments and by two South Canterbury farming syndicates owned by British and US investors.
Ms Chen, who came to New Zealand as a child with her family, said she had personally experienced people giving her the fingers as an “Asian driver”.
She said many Asians also felt “targeted” after recent “flashpoints” such as tourists being blamed for car accidents and people with Asian names being blamed for Auckland’s rising house prices.
“I’ve met Asian people who tell you they were very upset by that,” she said. “”It’s the way it was done. The message that was conveyed was that our money is welcome and we are not.”
She said New Zealand needed a “multicultural policy on a bicultural base” to ensure that people of all ethnicities felt welcome and were treated fairly.
For example, she said the voting system should be reformed to provide more consistent voting materials and interpreters in non-English languages. A Statistics NZ survey found that 60 per cent of recent migrants did not vote in the 2011 election.
On the other hand, she said immigration policy should also be changed to require more English language ability.
“My pragmatic view, having arrived here with not much English, is that it’s not a good situation to be in,” she said.
She said employers also needed to recognise the value in a diverse workforce to cope with “demographic disruption” – the need to market to a much more diverse population in NZ and overseas.
Matt Ensor, a business director of engineering company Beca, told the breakfast that his business was declining when it recruited mainly Pakeha New Zealanders like him. It was even tougher at first when the company decided to recruit a diverse workforce, but the business succeeded when it learnt how to make best use of the new recruits.
For example, he said, people from some cultures had to be given an opportunity to speak because in their cultures it was rude to interrupt another speaker. They needed a chance to discuss their differing ideas on what it meant to show “initiative”.
He said his key breakthrough came from offering a course on “how to be successful at Beca” which enabled employees from many cultures to understand each other.