Public Sector Forum in Wellington

How to communicate with Asian New Zealand audiences?

According to Statistics NZ, by 2038, Asians will make up of 20.9 percent of the total New Zealand population. 160 languages are currently spoken in New Zealand. The NZAL Public Sector Forum on ‘How to communicate with Asian New Zealanders as Citizens?‘ discussed what ethnic and linguistic superdiversity meant for policy and law reform, consultation and education about enforcement of laws. The key issue is: how do public sector organisations meet their obligations to communicate with all New Zealanders as citizens, including the superdiverse?

This forum was kindly hosted by the NZ Customs Service and was attended by Asian media organisations and representatives from 29 public sector organisations including:

  • Department of Internal Affairs;
  • Education New Zealand;
  • Electoral Commission;
  • Electricity Authority;
  • Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority;
  • Greater Wellington Regional Council;
  • Health Promotion Agency;
  • Inland Revenue;
  • Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd;
  • Ministry for Primary Industries;
  • Ministry for the Environment;
  • Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment;
  • Ministry of Culture and Heritage;
  • Ministry of Education;
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade;
  • Ministry of Health;
  • Ministry of Justice;
  • Ministry for Women;
  • NZ Fire Service;
  • NZ Trade & Enterprise;
  • NZ Police;
  • NZ Customs Service;
  • NZ On Air;
  • Office of the Auditor-General;
  • Real Estate Agents Authority;
  • Social Policy Evaluation and Research Unit;
  • State Services Commission;
  • Statistics NZ and
  • Work Safe NZ

The speakers for the forum included Carolyn Tremain – CEO & Comptroller of NZ Customs Service, Mai Chen, Chairperson of NZAL, Laura Maxwell, Group Revenue Director at NZME, Wen Powles, NZAL Ambassador and Director, Confucius Institute at Victoria University of Wellington. Asian media organisations present at the forum were Indian radio stations – Humm FM and Radio Tarana, Chinese newspapers – Chinese Herald, Mandarin Pages, Xinhua News Agency, New Zealand Messenger, Chinese TV networks – WTV, Oceania TV, Korean newspapers – The Korea Post  and cross cultural communications agency, Bananaworks.

Opening the session, Carolyn Tremain said, “For Customs, and our colleagues in the public sector, trade and travel is core business so the diversity of our customer base has major implications for how we understand our customers, and engage with them. Our Customs 2020 strategy is to make compliance easy to do and hard to avoid, that means helping our customers comply, and also sending a strong enforcement message to those who don’t – in ways that have meaning for those groups. So we also have to more than ever before, understand the culture and value cultural IQ and cultural literacy in our staff.”

Mai Chen shared statistics from the soon-to-be-released Superdiversity Stocktake about the high level of consumption of ethnic media by new and established migrants and explained how the ways in which the superdiverse consume media is changing and why this matters for public sector organisations when they communicate with citizens.  She said, “Frankly, communicating to citizens for the government is much harder than communicating to customers for business.  The reason is because when you are communicating to business customers, it’s easier – you’ve got something and they want it.  There’s a value-add to them: they get some benefit out of what you’ve got, or they can make some money out of it.  But when you’re the Government communicating about how you might be prosecuted if you bring the wrong sorts of things across the border or about the fact that you should vote, it’s much harder.  Also, communication is more than translation just as language is also about culture. If you have a responsibility to consult all New Zealanders, or an obligation to go out there and make sure that your services are available to all New Zealanders, then you need to get the expertise needed to reach all Zealanders.

Laura Maxwell, Group Revenue Director reiterated 2038 predictions from Statistics NZ stating that the Asian population is forecast to be the fastest growing statistical category in New Zealand and that we now need to ensure that we are able to provide multi-cultural media content as ethnic communities are looking for more news from home.
Wen Powles, NZAL Ambassador and former NZ Consul General to Shanghai, spoke to the public sector audience on “is cultural knowledge important as a tool of the trade?” She said, “Being comfortable culturally with each other, whatever our backgrounds, comes from being ‘culturally empathetic’ – not just having a few words of Arabic or Chinese or doing a crash course in How to do business with China, India and so on, but developing empathy towards other cultures and histories as a stepping stone towards mutual understanding and, hopefully, successful interactions.”