We paired up strangers to rediscover the art of debate

Debate only seems to become more polarised, more of us safely cocooned inside echo chambers where our preconceptions are  unchallenged. So how do we change our minds? 

In this column, the first in a new series in the Weekend Mix, and published today online, we attempt to rediscover the art of debate.

The contributors to this column - drawn from the Otago community - don’t know who they are arguing with. They are simply engaging with the argument. Thinking about the alternative point of view and responding. We hope it is a useful exercise.

During the past five years, a net 259,000 people have migrated to New Zealand, a more than four-fold increase on the previous census period. With more than 200 ethnicities represented, the face of New Zealand is changing, quickly. How do we best manage immigration? Is it threatening the New Zealand way of life?

OPENING STATEMENT: AFFIRMATIVE

The current level of immigration, especially from nations that don’t share New Zealand’s heritage, is undermining New Zealand’s way of life. New Zealand is already dealing with the social effects of fast population growth through immigration. Housing and infrastructure is one problem area, especially in larger cities. The scale of immigration brings disparate cultural practices and social attitudes that in some cases set new arrivals apart from the mainstream community. People with totally different cultures and life experiences rarely get along. New Zealand does not owe non-New Zealanders the right to live here. The interests of current New Zealanders come first.

 

OPENING STATEMENT: NEGATIVE

We are indeed a global village. Immigration actually enhances, enables and sustains the New Zealand way of life. Our economy needs continued economic growth, which effectively sustains our way of life; research shows immigration actually increases income per person and living standards. Essential industries and services rely on immigration e.g. the education sector and, undeniably, good education is vital to all aspects of our way of life. Auckland, one of the world’s most culturally diverse cities — with the world’s fourth-highest number of different ethnicities in one city — contributes almost 40% of New Zealand’s GDP. This is attributed to, among other things, the city’s diversity, innovation and creative thinking brought by immigrants and immigration leading to an increase in international trade. Also, importantly, immigration impacts our social lives positively as we learn about new cultures, customs and languages. Our children learn tolerance and acceptance from a young age.

 

AFFIRMATIVE: OK, LET ME RESPOND TO THAT

Far from being a global village, the outside world is a divided and dangerous place. Our geographical isolation and small population protect us. Rapid change has led to social breakdown throughout the world. Immigration has been driven by the wrong reasons. New immigrants can come into conflict with local workers if jobs are scarce. Wealthy arrivals form a new, self-contained elite, leading to division. Alongside innovation and diversity comes incompatible religious or cultural attitudes. Most important, immigration has stretched infrastructure to breaking point. Tolerance and acceptance are nice buzzwords. But in the real world, things are not often so simple.

 

NEGATIVE: OK, LET ME RESPOND TO THAT

It is easy to point fingers at immigration, particularly for the housing and infrastructure challenges, when in reality there are multiple causes. A significant cause up until the 2018 law change was foreign, non-resident home buyers: 22% in central Auckland, 5% in Queenstown and elsewhere 3%. This isn’t insignificant and we’re still feeling the flow-on effects. Immigrants themselves account for a relatively small percentage of home purchases. The housing issue has also been brought about over the decades by a lack of political will and foresight. And yes, ‘‘in some cases’’ immigrants do come with some cultural practices and social attitudes that are questionable and others that we should embrace. Whether right or wrong, we’ve always had pockets that set themselves apart even from within the so-called ‘‘mainstream’’, so it isn’t exclusive to some immigrants.

 

AFFIRMATIVE: YES, I CAN ENGAGE WITH THAT

Most New Zealanders are reasonably generous people who have a sense of fairness. Violent intolerance is the exception not the norm. Immigrants often become well-respected members of our community. Just look at the recent case of the immigrant Balclutha meat worker and his sick wife — locals in a fairly conservative provincial community rallied around them to ensure they could stay in their new home. Immigration is a fact of life and most people accept this. Problems arise when people feel that change is happening too fast, or that their concerns are being ignored. Like many issues, immigration is not a black and white debate. There is a middle ground to be found. It might be as simple as slowing the influx, or helping new immigrants move to smaller centres. The experience could be better for everyone.

 

NEGATIVE: YES, I CAN ENGAGE WITH THAT

Admittedly, immigration does not come without challenges (often of perception rather than fact) but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Immigration is economically vital to New Zealand. The filters that Immigration New Zealand has in place, more so in recent years, aim to ensure we receive immigrants who will serve this country. For immigration to work well there needs to be a dynamic, mutually non-exclusive balance between the economic drivers for immigration, social and immigration policy and housing and infrastructure (among other things).

 

AFFIRMATIVE: FAIR ENOUGH, IT’S NOT STRAIGHTFORWARD

It’s hard to separate immigration out from other issues because of the way it is promoted by pro-globalisation governments as part of a wider agenda. Middle-class academics approve of multicultural diversity from their ivory towers. For the economically secure, immigration can seem a positive thing. For others, not so much. Immigrant workers are often prepared (or coerced) to put up with substandard conditions. Having struggled to reassert their identity, Maori could easily see a wave of immigration as a new threat. For New Zealanders priced out of the housing market, or struggling with economic pressures, a large number of wealthy new arrivals will create resentment. Add into the mix very different expectations and cultural mores and it’s easy to see how conflict can be sparked off. Immigrants who are highly skilled are often desperately needed in their own countries. It has been pointed out the key to getting immigration right is balance. I agree. But many people don’t feel like this balance has been achieved.

NEGATIVE: FAIR ENOUGH, IT’S NOT STRAIGHTFORWARD

Here’s showing myself - I am an immigrant! I can with hand on heart say that New Zealanders are the most awesome, generous, friendly, wonderful people in the world - and I should know because I work with people from literally all over the world. New Zealanders don’t realise how truly special they are; it takes someone like me to point that out. Immigrants don’t want to compromise who and what you are, or your lifestyle. We’re all in this together and must find solutions together. This is my home and the people that surround me, my friends. I too am Kiwi (who just happens to be an immigrant). I heard this recently, ‘‘The way we receive and treat immigrants will determine their future, and that of New Zealand’’. P.S. The irony of this debate is that not a single person residing in New Zealand at present isn’t either an immigrant or the descendant of an immigrant somewhere in their whakapapa. So let’s all be thankful for immigration!

Comments

The 'Real World'.

Funny place. Only the proposer lives in it, for the proposer defines it.

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