New Zealand First members, and MP Clayton Mitchell, are pushing for a bill that would see migrants and refugees expelled if they did not adhere to 'New Zealand values'. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

New Zealand First MP Clayton Mitchell has won membership support for his proposal to expel migrants and refugees who don’t respect ‘New Zealand values’, Laura Walters reports.

New Zealand First MP Clayton Mitchell has drafted a bill to kick out immigrants and refugees if they don’t adhere to “New Zealand values”, a move backed by the majority of the party’s membership.

But the Human Rights Commission says it’s difficult to see how such a law would be implemented, and energy would be better spent making sure migrants feel valued and wanted.

The bill would legally mandate new migrants and refugees to respect sexual equality, “all legal sexual preferences”, religious rights, and that alcohol was a legal substance that could not be campaigned against.

“It’s actually about tolerance and about being intolerant of intolerance.”

Mitchell said it cemented New Zealand’s values system and made it clear intolerance based on religion, race, sexual preference and gender was not acceptable in New Zealand.

More important to make people feel ‘valued and wanted’

Acting Race Relations Commissioner Paula Tesoriero said it was hard to see how such a concept could be defined when it was doubtful there was an agreement within New Zealand on what constitutes ‘New Zealand values’.

“As a country, we still have a long way to go in a number of areas including achieving true gender equity or fully protecting the rights of indigenous people.”

Tesoriero said she struggled to see how this could be implemented in a manner that was fair, and which properly recognised important principles of diversity and inclusiveness.

“We should be concentrating on ensuring the people that we have welcomed into our country have access to appropriate opportunities and supports to ensure that they can contribute fully and constructively within our community, and that they feel valued and wanted.”

New Zealand First bread and butter

The discussion was kicked off by a remit from the floor at the New Zealand annual conference in Tauranga, supported by the majority of the 200 members present.

The remit, put forward by Mitchell’s Tauranga regional committee, called for the introduction of Mitchell’s Respecting New Zealand Values Bill. There was a similar remit at last year’s conference.

Newly-elected New Zealand First president Lester Gray talked in support of the bill.

Mitchell’s bill was drafted a while ago and has yet to be submitted to the ballot. There seemed to be differences of opinion on the bill among the New Zealand First caucus, with senior MP and Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin talking against it.

Getting the backing of the party membership was one possible way for Mitchell to advance his bill. But before making it into the private member’s ballot – a biscuit tin in Parliament – it would have to first make it past the caucus policy committee.

Martin said most of aims of the bill were already covered by existing legislation, such as hate speech laws.

As Internal Affairs Minister she would be the person responsible for removing citizenship. She said she didn’t think the provisions of the bill would be workable, and suggested if the party wanted to advance that type of policy, a citizenship test (similar to that in Canada) would be a more practical path forward.

Wairarapa member Roger Melville said he was worried about “certain types creeping in”.

But first-time conference-goer Mere Manga from Northland said she was not comfortable with the racist tone of the discussions.

Manga said she was happy to consider a citizenship test, but the language used did not resonate with her.

“We’re talking about Christian values, and it’s really great to sit upon high and judge others, but I just can’t stomach that…

“I didn’t feel like it was a tolerance of everyone at all. It’s like we’re here now and we are able to judge those coming in.”

Mitchell said he was unsure of exactly how the proposed legislation would work, and what the threshold would be to kick someone out of the country.

But it would be a higher threshold than a flippant comment made off the cuff, he said.

“We’re talking about that extreme attitude and activity…

“It’s about, if you have extremism or racial bigotry or prejudices against other people on their sexuality, or whatever it might be, that it’s saying we don’t have space for you in our society, and it’s time to go back to your country.”

New Zealand should focus on shared values

Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman, New Zealand’s first refugee MP, has spoken extensively about being subjected to xenophobia and racism since being elected.

In the past, Ghahraman has said New Zealand’s rugged, farming, number 8 wire identity is rooted in its colonial settler past, which did not consider Māori identity and culture, and other migrant populations.

Ghahraman said the Green Party was proud to welcome new New Zealanders, and believed everyone had something meaningful to contribute.

“It’s very important that debate about migration isn’t used to bring out racist sentiments that can cause real harm to people. Our values are shared with people of different cultures and background and that is our strength, this includes feminism, environmentalism, and open democracy.”

The hotly contested bill wasn’t a priority for Parliament to consider but the party would assess the bill if it came through the House, she said.

Party leader Winston Peters said there was sexism in some migrant communities, where women were treated “like cattle”. 

“If Winston is saying women should be treated better we agree, across cultures and communities. Domestic violence and other women’s rights abuses are pervasive across the world and occur in New Zealand at record rates, and the Green Party are working to address that,” Ghahraman said.

New Zealand has record rates of family violence, with police attending about 120,000 domestic violence-related callouts a year. One of the Labour-New Zealand First coalition promises included further funding for organisations responding to family violence. An extra $76.2 million of funding was announced in May.

Mitchell said this was not an “us and them” situation, and it was not a racist policy.

Racism was a “buzzword” which arose during discussions about migrant communities, but it was important to have these discussions without fears of being labelled racist, or politically incorrect, he said.

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