Story: Ethnic and religious intolerance

Page 5. Anti-Asian politics

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New Asian migration

Concerns about the arrival of Asians surfaced again in the 1990s. Changes to immigration policy in 1986 and 1987 based the selection of immigrants on skills, not country of origin. There was a significant increase in immigration from Asia. The first wave of arrivals in the early 1990s were mainly from Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. After 2000, China and India provided many immigrants. In 2013, nearly 12% of New Zealand's population was Asian.

Community concern

In 1993 Auckland community newspapers published articles by journalists Pat Booth and Yvonne Martin on the ‘Inv-Asian’. A number of groups formed to oppose Asian immigration, and the New Zealand First Party, led by Winston Peters, campaigned in the 1996 election against the current levels of immigration and ‘non-traditional’ immigrants.

There was concern about a range of issues – everything from the driving abilities of Asians to the impact of non-English speakers on schools. Much public comment echoed the ‘yellow peril’ concerns of a century earlier.

Race-hate murder

Racial violence in the 2000s has been very rare. But in 2003, 25-year-old Korean economics student Jae Hyeon Kim was murdered by white supremacists while hitchhiking from Westport to Greymouth. The Reverend Taeil Choi of a Nelson Korean church suggested that for Jae Hyeon Kim’s sake, the country should commit itself to becoming ‘a place where all cultures and all people are tolerated equally’1.

Growing tolerance

Public opinion became more tolerant in the early 21st century. In an Asia New Zealand Foundation study of 2017, the majority of New Zealanders agreed that Asian growth had a positive influence on New Zealand’s economy, and 46% felt that Asian traditions and cultures would have a positive impact on New Zealand's future. 57% of respondents said that not enough was being done to understand Asian cultures and traditions, while 24% said enough was being done. Involvement with Asian cultures and peoples are major factors in developing a positive outlook. 

In the early 2010s New Zealand had a far more varied ethnic make-up than a century before – in 2013 over 34% of New Zealanders declared their ethnicity as Māori, Asian or Pacific. There was less explicit racial intolerance. The country had an annual Race Relations Day on 21 March – the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In 2015/16 the Human Rights Commission received 282 complaints or enquiries about discrimination on the basis of race, colour, ethnic or national origin, down from 338 in 2014. After the 2020 election, 7% of MPs were Asian.

The Human Rights Commission facilitates the New Zealand Diversity Action Programme: Te Ngira. Established in 2004, this programme works to foster positive relationships between diverse peoples and fulfill the promise of the Treaty of Waitangi. The Commission also sponsored the New Zealand Diversity Action Awards, which rewarded actions by a range of groups that contributed to better relationships among New Zealanders of diverse ethnicity and religious beliefs.

The different stories of New Zealanders with diverse ethnic backgrounds were recorded as part of the #ThatsUsNZ initiative in 2016/17. Personal stories of casual racism and of starting a new life in New Zealand highlight informal and casual forms of discrimination. This was reinforced by the subsequent #GiveNothingToRacism campaign.

Immigration and housing

In 2015, as house prices rose steeply in Auckland as a consequence of rising demand and limited supply, issues relating to Chinese purchases of domestic housing became headline news. Labour Party housing spokesperson, Phil Twyford, released data from a real estate firm in July 2015 that suggested that almost 40% of houses in a 3 month period were purchased by people with Chinese names. The implication was that Chinese buyers were driving up the cost of Auckland homes.

The Labour Party was criticised for using questionable information to 'scapegoat' Chinese home buyers in ways that verged on racism. Some commentators argued that the bulk of recent permanent and long-term immigrants were Chinese and Indian and this could explain their representation among house buyers. But these were New Zealand residents or citizens.

From October 2015, foreign buyers had to register with Inland Revenue before buying property in New Zealand and have a New Zealand bank account. Data from Land Information New Zealand in May 2016 suggested that overseas Chinese buyers were the biggest investors among foreign buyers in New Zealand homes in the first quarter of 2016 and 58% of foreign buyers in the Auckland region. However, overseas buyers were only 3% of all home buyers in early 2016.

  1. Quoted in Tūī tūī tuituiā: race relations in 2008. Auckland: Human Rights Commission, 2009, p. 23. Back
How to cite this page:

Paul Spoonley, 'Ethnic and religious intolerance - Anti-Asian politics', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 June 2024)

Story by Paul Spoonley, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 7 Jun 2018