“Tonight I am feeling for you
Under the state of a strange land
You have sacrificed much to be here
There but for grace as I offer my hand
Welcome home, I bid you welcome, I bid you welcome
Welcome home from the bottom of my heart
Out here on the edge
The empire is fading by the day
And the world is so weary in war
Maybe we’ll find that new way”
Dave Dobbyn “Welcome home”
2020 has been, among many things, the year of Anti-Racism. COVID-19 has demonstrated, around the world, how racial disparities can save or take lives, with Indigenous communities, black communities, refugee communities around the world have borne the brunt of COVID mortality rates. Black Lives Matters marches have called an end to racial oppression, and are catalysing rights movements around the world, including Aotearoa. Marginalised groups are not willing to wait a moment longer for justice. In the Aotearoa 2020 elections, The Māori Party have put forward an exciting, and powerful policy suite that responds to this backdrop – returning Maori placenames, supporting constitutional reform, ending oil and gas exploration in Aotearoa. One single policy, within the Whānau Build program, however, is a piercing needle-scratch within an otherwise honorable policy suite: A ban on immigration, until housing stock meets need. As has been noted in this conspiracy-rich environment, Maori can often fall prey to false theories about our oppression – and immigration is certainly one that triggers us for the very reason that colonization arrived on a boat, from elsewhere. To extend this into a policy which blames current migrant populations for Maori dispossession is, however, a mistake, and one that requires unpacking and careful consideration if we want to avoid harming others, as well as ourselves
So for a start – multiple studies – have concluded that immigration has minimal to no inflationary impact upon house prices:
“We find no evidence that the inflow of foreign-born immigrants to an area are positively related to local house prices”HOUSING MARKETS AND MIGRATION: EVIDENCE FROM NEW ZEALAND, Stillman and Mare 2008
“Population increases from three of these groups, including both immigrant groups, again show no significant link with house price increases – and some appear to be slightly negatively correlated”Housing markets and migration – Evidence from New Zealand, Motu Research 2019
“Despite declines in resident visas over the last two financial years, house prices are still comparatively high, indicating that a reduction in immigration isn’t the main contributor.”Reducing immigration won’t magically lower house prices, experts say, Deguara 2019
In the words of Maori housing advocate and researcher, and author of “Rebuilding the Kainga”, Jade Kake:
“The focus on curbing migration demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of housing markets and demand side drivers. Research has shown that returning New Zealand citizens have the most significant impact on demand, as opposed to migrants, and that once controls for population growth are factored in, overseas migration has been found to have little to no impact on local house prices or rents.”
Keep in mind that the research we have on links between racism and immigration was carried before COVID restrictions severely limited our immigration figures, meaning that if they were making very little to no impact on house prices before – it is even less so, now. This is supported by research which observed that over periods where immigration slowed, house prices continued to climb.
In short – migrants are not costing us our housing stock.
It’s important we hold on to that fact through this discussion – because it is the driving force behind using an immigration ban to help solve the housing crisis. It’s not new that they are accused of doing this though. Blaming migrants for stealing jobs and houses happens everywhere around the world, and has happened for a long time.
So now we know what an immigration ban doesn’t do, what does it do?
Well, policy language is a powerful systemic driver of bias. Policies are perceived as communicating widely held beliefs and values of a country and shape ideas of what is acceptable, what is normal, and in the case of immigration, what it takes to belong. I say they are perceived as communicating widely held beliefs because our political system makes it entirely possible for a very small group to craft and pass a policy based upon their beliefs, and that policy can then go on to impact society in general. In any case – the truth holds that policy, once in place, continues to shape attitudes and influence behaviour.
When those in power suggested Maori wanted to lock “all New Zealanders” out of the nation’s beaches – it was absurdly false in a practical sense, but the true harm sat in the logic behind this suggestion: That Maori are here to take everything away, that Maori concerns over the foreshore and seabed were about greed, and exclusion, and that Maori sit in an oppositional space to “regular New Zealanders”, othering us on our own lands. Similarly, multiple policies and legislation have been grounded in racist logic that Maori are a drain on society, and exist in a marginal space, oppositional to “mainstream” New Zealand (a term which, in itself, marginalizes Māori).
This policy and legislation then shapes the decisions, actions, and language of everyone they impact. If we take an example of education: A racist premise in an education policy will shape the decisions, actions and language in the ministry – in this case the Ministry of Education. That policy language, and direction, and actions will then be carried through the agency as a whole, who are tasked to deliver that racist premise, coded in the language and actions, to its clients (eg training and education providers – including teachers, principals, etc). The end recipients of the racist premise are the students and their whanau. The racism in that policy is not often overt – it is subtle and coded, and exists in the logic behind the policy. But because this is happening across multiple policies, and across multiple sectors, and is happening with new policies all the time, and is being welcomed into an already racist system, the impacts it holds are super-charged.
Being a part of a broader white supremacist structure means that racism in policy which targets Pacific islanders does not just impact upon Pacific islanders. Once it is welcomed into a system which is already racist in nature, it acts as scaffolding for other racist assumptions. The suggestion that Pacific islanders are a drain, once entered into a white supremacist policy sphere, supports the assumption that Maori are also a drain, by virtue of our skin colour, genealogical connections, cultural similarities, and importantly because in a white supremacist system there is white, and there is “The Other”.
So to come back to the question of what does an immigration ban do, if it is not helping Māori get into homes?
It reinforces false ideas that migrant groups are to blame for Māori dispossession. The logic of the policy is that migrants are a drain on the housing stock, and by extension a drain on the socio-economic capital of Aotearoa. A drain on welfare, a drain on employment, a drain on our cultural integrity. This is dangerous and harmful logic – and it was exactly the logic expressed in the manifesto of the Christchurch gunman. For those of you who poured out your sympathy and commitment to justice for that horror. For those who decried and rejected the racism that led to those attacks. To those who just weeks ago expressed support for the families delivering their victim statements, we need to seriously consider how this logic is activated against these same families and communities. It does not just impact upon those not yet arriving, it impacts upon those who are already here.
Māori researchers and experts on racism and immigration, Dr Tahu Kukutai and Dr Arama Rata, speak to Maori-Migrant relationships in their chapter “From Mainstream to Manaaki” in the book Fair Borders? Migration Policy in the Twenty-First Century. While acknowledging the impacts that immigration has upon Maori outcomes, they are clear: the issue is not one of migrants themselves, but one of racist colonialism within employment, within housing, and within welfare, and that a Tiriti centered approach can provide for both manaakitanga of migrant communities AND Māori advancement.
In reinforcing blame of migrant groups within the colonially white supremacist system of New Zealand, we buttress and galvanise harmful ideas of nationalism that obscure the true drivers of injustice against Maori. It provides oxygen to white supremacist movements who operate on false ideas of nationalism and patriotism to further their domination of our world. In servicing that premise, we service their domination. White supremacist movements have long relied upon the manipulation of other marginalized groups to further their agendas. For this reason, the founder of the Australian Ku Klux Klan, Peter Coleman, said that:
“If we did actually set up in New Zealand, we would expect to get a lot of Maori members because they are also concerned about things like immigration and don’t like the Asians coming in and taking over things.”
While most Māori would be rightly repulsed at the idea of the Ku Klux Klan viewing us as allies – immigration bans which operate on the same false logic espoused by the Ku Klux Klan is exactly what gives this problematic idea weight.
What else does this policy do, alongside NOT getting Maori into homes?
It breaches our international obligations that we have signed up to under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Not only does this impact upon those who are arriving here – but this is an arrangement that also functions to protect Māori who are overseas. While Māori should definitely be negotiating our own involvement in international agreements – for now, pulling out of these arrangements places our overseas whanau Māori at risk.
It also, as Jade Kake pointed out, is a distraction from the actual drivers of the housing crisis. The timeframe suggested through the policy “until housing stock meets need” is a timeframe set upon irrelevant factors. Just last year, the United Nations sent rapporteur Leilani Farha here to assess the housing crisis. Her findings were that:
“At the root of the crisis is a speculative housing market that has been supported by successive governments who have promoted homeownership as an investment, while until recently discontinuing the provision of social housing and providing inadequate tenant protection.”
It bears mentioning that this same economic logic of promoting homeownership as investment is what underpinning Māori Party support for the Social Housing Reform Bill, which resulted in the govt sale of thousands of state homes, at the apparent behest of iwi. That may have been different MPs, but there is no escaping that the drop in stock is a legacy of this bill, a legacy that is being unduly visited upon migrant populations with little to no acknowledgement of that vote.
The role of systemic racism against Māori is also mentioned in the findings of rapporteur Farha, and when addressing homelessness we must also account for ableism and a fraught mental health system. These deeply complex contributors makes “until supply meets need” a dubious timeframe for this policy, in addition to that timeframe being applied against a group that do not cause the problem in the first place.
There are many other GOOD aspects to the Whanau Build Policy that DO focus on us rather than focusing on migrants, and are upheld by Maori and non-Maori expertise in housing – introducing rent-to-buy options for state housing, taxing unoccupied houses to force them into the property market and bringing foreign owned income properties under the Overseas Investment Act are all sound measures – and ultimately, Maori leadership of both housing and immigration policies are what is called for here.
But Maori leadership is much more than a Maori person being in the leader position. If it does not center our tikanga, or Te Tiriti o Waitangi; if it does not service Maori but in fact can be used against us; if it sets us back on the dismantling of white supremacist structure by galvanizing its racist logic; if it does not listen to our own Maori housing and immigration experts, then it must surely be questioned in its ability to look after us, or indeed anyone else, as we have always prided ourselves in doing.