Hard News by Russell Brown

Darth George

Yay. Quoted in Parliament yesterday. I like it when that happens. Although I have a couple of high-profile media gigs, this blog is principally compiled with resources available to any Internet-connected citizen, so it's nice to occasionally get a word in at the table of democracy.

Lianne Daziel quoted my frank assessment of Peters and his party from the first paragraph of yesterday's post and apparently it went down quite well. Jolly good. I couldn't find that online, but Marahey had an interesting response to a Peters question about immigrants and the welfare. It appears there are far fewer new migrants claiming emergency benefits than there were back when Winston was Deputy Prime Minister.

Thanks for all the appreciative emails about yesterday's post, too. Clearly, I'm not the only one irritated and appalled by New Zealand First's lying and despicable leaflet. But it's touching to see that the leaflet has at least one champion in the media, even if that champion is clearly barking mad. Garth George's comment in the Herald today - Like it or not, Peters' pamphlet pretty much spot on - includes passages like this:

"Hundreds of thousands of Third World immigrants have arrived since Labour was elected in 1999 - and they are still coming," writes Mr Peters. Absolutely true.

Well, actually, it's absolutely ludicrous and grossly inaccurate. Garth likes to witter on about values in his columns, but he appears to have dismissed the fundamental journalistic value: a commitment to the truth. If he can't manage that he ought to retire and make way for someone who can actually manage a few minutes' research.

Another paragraph is quite telling:

Mr Peters' pamphlet simply points to the fact that this country is being invaded by aliens, in much too great a number for our small population, who are physically, mentally, emotionally, culturally and socially so different from Pakeha, Maori and Pacific Islanders that their integration is virtually impossible.

So the presence and role of Pacific Islanders in our society is uncontroversial. It wasn't always thus. I'm old enough to remember - and Garth certainly is - when their presence was political grist to the demagogue of another era: Rob Muldoon. I remember when a lot of white folks didn't like to talk to Samoans. A mate of mine had Dutch parents, who'd stepped off the boat with barely a dollar to their names - they used to cop it. We didn't like them either.

And then there's this pearl:

The behaviour of some, the housing choices of many and the fact that some have been here for years yet speak no English, indicate they are not here to integrate, but to colonise.

Jesus. Why not just say "Yellow Peril" and be done with it? Yes, I know, it's just the blatherings of a silly old man, but he's a silly old man who happens to choose which Letters to the Editor get published in the Herald. (You may find that explains a few things for you …)

Anyway, for the benefit of lazy old men who prefer to consult their prejudices than the facts, just over one in 10 Aucklanders (13% ) are Asian, and six per cent ethnic Chinese, but they are not necessarily immigrants. Twenty per cent of ethnic Chinese in Auckland were born here, some from families which have been here for decades. The Department of Statistics' projection says that at estimated migration rates - hardly a given - all Asian people put together, including those whose families have been here for many years, will account for 13% of the national population by 2021. The Asian community's median age is currently 36 - seven years higher than that of the overall population - so natural increase will be modest. (Actually, the more you look at these numbers, the more it becomes apparent that the ageing of the overall population is more of a concern than the growth of any single ethnic group.)

This doesn't actually mean that in 20 years' time 13% of the population will look, act or primarily identify as Asian. In the commentary to its projection, the department notes (the boldface is from the original):

The Asian population includes people who identify with an Asian ethnicity, including those who identify with other ethnicities such as European and/or Maori. It is important to note that these ethnic populations are not mutually exclusive because people can and do identify with more than one ethnicity. People who identify with more than one ethnicity will be included in each ethnic population.

So, unlike Garth, the people who actually study this sort of thing clearly do expect Asian immigrants to integrate. The proportion of the population identified as European will decrease from the current 79% to 69% by 2021, but that will largely be driven by relatively higher birth rates in the Maori and Pacific Island communities - ethnicities of which Garth apparently approves. It's not much of a colonisation, really.

Just for good measure, Garth weighs in on something else he doesn't know anything about - the Zaoui case:

And when it comes to the question of whether the man is a terrorist, I have a lot less faith in the Refugee Appeals Authority and the courts, which sometimes put United Nations nonsense before the good of the country, than I have in the SIS, which answers directly to the Prime Minister.

Are you still calling yourself a journalist, George? The role of a free press in a democracy is precisely to hold the official view to account. He - along with daily letter-writers to the Herald - seems to have trouble understanding why Zaoui was ever "allowed past the airport in the first place". It's not actually that complicated: New Zealand has long been a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees, which obliges all states not to forcibly return people fleeing conflict or persecution in their homelands to a place where they would be in danger. We take a small fixed annual quota, fewer than a thousand (the US takes about 70,000, by comparison) and also hear appeals as to status, about 90% of which are either withdrawn or rejected by the Refugee Status Appeals Authority.

Anyway, whatever the nanny-state arguments currently raging, a story this week on California's 15-year history of anti-smoking measures, which extended to the ban on smoking in bars and restaurants in 1998, seems to show the desired public health effect:

One study showed that California's lung cancer rate fell by over 16% between 1988 and 1997, compared with a drop of 2.7% in the rest of the US. The number of smokers in California fell by 40% in the decade after the first tough measures were introduced, and rates of smoking in the state are lower than in the rest of the US with only 18% of Californians smoking compared with 25% of the rest of the country.

Next up in California: banning smoking on the beaches. I can't quite see that one flying here.

And finally, an interesting speech from Richard Prebble: Time to Ditch the Kiwi. I personally think national currencies are over-rated, so I'm amenable to arguments about consolidating money across national borders.

There were a couple of points of particular interest: the argument for abandoning a sovereign currency is usually made in times of weakness, but our dollar is currently stronger than we want it to be. The real problem, as he points out, is volatility. The other point: he suggests we should adopt either the US dollar or the Euro. Coming from a (recently) committed Europhobe like Prebble, this is quite an admission. But the greenback, of course, is heading south and is likely to keep on heading that way over the long term, such are its dirty little secrets. You'd hardly want to hitch a ride down. The Euro, on the other hand, would just bring us more of the same: it is too strong for the comfort of exporters. The Aussie dollar? No point. Too small. Some pan-Asian currency? Too scary by half at the moment. It looks to me like we're stuck with a volatile national currency for quite a while yet, if only because all other options are worse.