The last time these beloved isles of ours were divided on an issue of race it was 1981. I was wearing stubbies, whilst politicians wore sideburns and flared brown suits. People marched in the streets, rugby fanatics on one side, the anti-apartheid crew on the other. In New Zealand's own charming little way, it was our national game that got people off their arses and into the realm of political opinion.
If the newspaper headlines and the buzz on talkback radio is anything to go by, we're heading pretty rapidly in that direction again. This time it's not about a sports team coming, it's the 50,000 odd people who come to New Zealand each year as immigrants and refugees.
It's a political hot potato, one which Winston Peters has grasped firmly in both hands and tucked down the front of his y-fronts. It's not one issue, but many, and the lines between them blur just as easily between facts, statistics and opinions.
If everyone in the world was one colour, (and I like to think it would be the colour of that caramel flavoured Primo), the immigration issue would be a hell of a lot clearer. How many of these homogeneous caramelese people do we want coming into New Zealand, what skills do we want them to have, and how much money should they bring with them? But we're not one people, and so the issue gets clouded with xenophobia, political grandstanding, and plain ol' ignorance.
"Half of the refugees coming to New Zealand have AIDS" claimed Winston Peters, "and that's a fact". But it wasn't a fact, never was, never had been, and even though he'd later deny ever saying such a thing, the damage was done. But who is a refugee, what do they look like, and how do we know the difference between them and an immigrant? Does that mean the guy who works at the Golden Lucky Eagle Horse takeaways down the road from my place is best steered clear of? How do I know the difference between a rich Asian on a business investment entry visa, a foreign fee paying student, a tourist, or my Chinese mate who was born in Whakatane? If it were up to half the talkback callers I've had the misfortune to hear, they'd be forced to wear patches on their arms to help tell them apart. It's the direction we're heading in.
We should, as a nation, be able to have a debate on immigration policy. We should be able to decide what sort of people we want, in terms of skills, money and the like, and how many. Shold we be able to decide on the basis of "who fits in best", including the changes made last week to English language standards? Is this just racism under a veil of Government legitimacy?
Don't ask me. I just live here.