Much as New Zealand tried to keep its immigrants white through assisted migration schemes and entry permits, such a policy was hard to enforce and even harder to defend.
Schemes of student assistance, begun in the 1950s, brought young Asian students to New Zealand. In particular the Colombo Plan attracted Malaysians, Thais and Indonesians. A few married New Zealanders and settled. By 1971 there were almost 3,000 Malaysians in the country.
By 1972 there were also over 50,000 Pacific Islanders living in New Zealand (up from 3,600 in 1951). New Zealand’s political responsibilities and paternalistic attitudes to the Pacific facilitated their entry.
Cook Islanders had been British subjects since their country was annexed in 1901, and became New Zealand citizens in 1949. As the Cook Islands’ growing population put pressure on limited land resources, and transport links with New Zealand improved, people emigrated south. In the 1950s, women came as domestic servants, in the 1960s, men came as unskilled labourers for Auckland factories.
Western Samoa had been under New Zealand control from 1914, and when it achieved independence in 1962 a Treaty of Friendship gave Samoans the opportunity for temporary entry permits. Because New Zealand needed unskilled labour, the regulations were only loosely enforced. In Samoa, declining prices for copra and bananas and the 1966 cyclone sent many to New Zealand.
By 1971 the proportion of New Zealand’s foreign-born population who were from countries outside the white British Commonwealth was 30% – double that of 20 years before. As the colour of the population changed, so did attitudes. Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community encouraged New Zealand to consider its identity as a Pacific, if not Asian, nation. Independence movements in the British colonies, civil rights crusades in the United States and a Māori cultural revival in New Zealand forced many New Zealanders to confront the racist assumptions in their past. By 1970 a writer on New Zealand immigration noted, ‘This is a world in which racist attitudes, once regarded as perfectly natural and needing no apology in an age of European domination of the non-Europeans’ world, are now looked at askance, even when they are not condemned outright.’ 1
In 1973 Prime Minister Norman Kirk stopped a South African Springbok rugby tour because of that country’s racist policy of apartheid. At the first New Zealand Day in 1974 there was a festival of New Zealand’s different ethnic communities. That year a review introduced a new non-racist immigration policy: apart from Australians and New Zealanders, all prospective migrants, British and non-British, had to obtain entry permits, and right of residence became based on questions of skills and qualifications, not ethnicity or national origin. In 1975 a symbolic association with the mother country was severed, with the formal ending of assisted immigration from Britain.