Immigration policy and values statements

Vernon Small has an interesting column in the Dominion-Post this morning (not yet online) under the heading “Terror risk muddies rational migration debate”.  He seems keen on a national debate on the economics of our immigration policy, including highlighting  The Treasury’s concerns about whether the skill level of the typical migrant is really fully consistent with the original vision of a skills-based migration programme providing economic benefits to New Zealanders.

But at the same time, with a somewhat lofty condescension, he seems uneasy about other public concerns. In particular, he isn’t taken with calls from Winston Peters and David Seymour for immigrants (including refugees) to sign some sort of national values statement.

Actually, I’m also not keen on requiring immigrants to sign values statements.  Not just because they don’t seem enforceable –   and if you really want to get to Australia, why would a commitment to “respect” (whatever that means) “a spirit of egalitarianism” (one element of the required Australian values statement”) deter one?.  Who knows what it means anyway  Perhaps turning over the Prime Minister every year or so, so that as many people as possible get a go?

My concerns are about two, perhaps opposing, risks.  The first is that any values statement becomes a lowest common denominator statement as to be totally meaningless.  The second is that the wording of any values statement –  if taken seriously –  would be hotly and continuously contested, as culture wars ebbed and flowed.  And frankly, I don’t seem to be welcome in David Seymour’s New Zealand.

Here is the Australian Values Statement, required of migrants to Australia:

I understand:

  • Australian society values respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion, commitment to the rule of law, Parliamentary democracy, equality of men and women and a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good
  • Australian society values equality of opportunity for individuals, regardless of their race, religion or ethnic background
  • the English language, as the national language, is an important unifying element of Australian society.

I undertake to respect these values of Australian society during my stay in Australia and to obey the laws of Australia.

I understand that, if I should seek to become an Australian citizen:

  • Australian citizenship is a shared identity, a common bond which unites all Australians while respecting their diversity
  • Australian citizenship involves reciprocal rights and responsibilities. The responsibilities of Australian Citizenship include obeying Australian laws, including those relating to voting at elections and serving on a jury.

If I meet the legal qualifications for becoming an Australian citizen and my application is approved I understand that I would have to pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people.

No doubt it isn’t aimed at people like me, and were I migrating to Australia, I could probably, at a pinch, sign it.  But I would have a few mental reservations.  If I knew what the sprit of egalitarianism was, I’d certainly accept it as part of the folk mythology of Australia,  but I’m not sure I’d really “respect” it.  And as for “equality of men and women”, well yes certainly in the most important senses –  equality before the law and before God.  But I’m a Christian, and like most Christian churches (including in Australia the Catholic church, and the Anglican church in Sydney), I don’t believe that women should serve as priests.  I don’t see that as matter of inequality, but many would.

I’m not sure when the Australian Values Statement was written, but it feels as though it might be 10 or 15 years old.   The culture wars have moved on, and David Seymour offers this, rather shorter version as a possibility for New Zealand.

Seymour said it wouldn’t be difficult to pull together a simple charter, stating for example: “We believe regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity or religion, you have the same legal rights as everybody else.”

If by that he means that, for example, people should be able to “marry” others of the same sex, then I don’t believe that.  Actually, for almost all of history –  including New Zealand’s history –  very few people did. Most Christian churches don’t today.  It is, for now, the law in New Zealand, but it doesn’t mean I agree with or respect that law.    And, for better or worse, in some respects New Zealand law isn’t even consistent with Seymour’s statement: after all, to name just one example, we have Maori seats in Parliament.  And where does the Treaty fit in the mix?

In fairness to Seymour, his might have been the fruit of 20 minutes scribbling on the back of an envelope. Any values statement actually put into legislation would no doubt be more carefully drafted –  and for that reason, among others, quite a lot longer, to capture all the caveats and competing emphases.

And where would it stop?  I had a quick look this morning at statements I could find in which each of the three largest political parties describe their values.  There was some overlap (and the particular Labour Party document I found had three of four pages of text, while the Greens and National Party had quite short lists), but there were quite a few substantial differences.  Which is what one might expect: a significant part of political debate is the contest of ideas and values, particularly in an era of cultural transition (eg secularization, in which culture and religion are no longer intrinsically interwoven).

I might find the references to loyalty to the sovereign, and limited government, in the National Party’s list appealing.    Many other New Zealanders wouldn’t.   “Respect the planet” might be something central to a Green view on things, but to me the concept of respecting an inanimate object just seems weird.  And even though there was serious uncertainty about the consequences of doing so, I’m glad our ancestors took decisive action to confront Hitler, rather than “take the path of caution”.

As far as I can see, none of the values statement (yet) talk of the rights of the unborn, or transgender rights to bathrooms –  to take just a couple of issues that have convulsed American debate.

Perhaps we might get agreement on process issues –  parliamentary sovereignty, a universal franchise, the rule of law etc –  but even on process it might be thin pickings.  There are probably plenty of supporters here of moving to a written constitution, and others who still hanker for a return to FPP.  In the end, is there genuine common ground on very much at all, other perhaps than that change should occur non-violently?  We can all agree that individuals do and should have rights, and probably all agree that in some circumstances the needs/interests of the “community” override those individual rights.  But where that boundary is, and how it should shift, is the intrinsic stuff of politics.  We can’t agree among ourselves, so what is there for immigrants to sign up to, other than today’s (temporary) shifting majority.  I was amused, for example, to read the Prime Minister’s rewriting of history, in answering the values question, noting that for him it included “understanding that New Zealand’s always been a tolerant society”.   Really?  To name just one low-key example, our treatment of conscientious objectors during the two World Wars meets no reasonable definition of “tolerant”.

And yet the people who call for migrants to sign values statements do capture a fair point.  When large numbers of people are allowed by our governments to come and live in New Zealand they have the potential to change our society.  People are not just bloodless economic units –  dessicated calculating machines.  They bring their own attitudes and values, and while the new arrivals are likely to be changed by living here so –  if the numbers are large enough – is our society.  One need only think of European migration to New Zealand over the last 200 years –  we their descendants may be changed by living here rather than in, say, the United Kingdom, but the similarities with modern Britain are probably greater than those with pre-1840 Maori society.  The point is not that modern New Zealand is better or worse for those migrants (and their values/attitudes/technologies), but that the fact of change is inescapable and largely irreversible.  Seeking that sort of change is itself a political act.

Which is one of a number of reasons why I’m skeptical that –  even if there were material economic benefits to residents of the recipient countries – large scale immigration programmes are normally a legitimate role of government at all.  We’ll always have some immigration.  New Zealanders travel, and some will meet and marry foreigners.  Often enough the new couple will want to settle here.  And our humanitarian impulses will, rightly, drive us to take some refugees.  But in neither case –  both on generally quite a small scale – do we grant permission to reside here with a goal of changing our society.

But once we get into large scale immigration programme, governments are in the culture change business, actively or passively, often without even realizing it. In terms of the domestic culture wars, and ongoing debates, the ability to attract more people like one side or another skews the playing field.  Instead of working out our differences, and debating change, within the existing community of New Zealanders, we tilt the playing field one way or the other. I might be comfortable with a large influx of mid-western evangelicals, while most Wellingtonians might prefer liberal Swedes.  I might be happy with strongly Anglican Ugandans or Kenyans, while many would prefer secular French.   In the specific New Zealand context, few migrants have any strong reason to feel a commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi, and for those New Zealanders for whom that is an important issue, any large scale immigration skews the game against (that representation) of Maori interests

It is far easier to resolve disputes, and find an ongoing place for each other, among communities with shared memories, experiences and commitments.  Families do it better than countries.  Countries do it better than the world.  Globalists might not like to acknowledge that, but it doesn’t change the reality.  Families don’t usually resolve their differences –  sometimes painful lasting differences –   by injecting new members into the family.






14 thoughts on “Immigration policy and values statements

  1. Well said. I’ve been thinking lately about the globalisation narrative. In Steger’s development of the six core claims of the ideology of globalisation;

    Click to access JPI%20Ideologies%20of%20globalization%20%20final.pdf

    He doesn’t really look at the issue of migration/immigration within that ideological framework. But the more you write about it, the more I start thinking that immigration (as a policy/political initiative) and social “diversity” is perhaps a big part of globalisation’s ideological framework.

    Thanks again for another thought-provoking contribution.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When you have a muslim mayor in charge of London in what was once the heart of Christianity that drove the Christian Crusades I guess the globalisation ideology certainly does drive social diversity. Perhaps for the better.


    • It wasn’t the Pope leading the charge into Persian territories during the crusades. I am pretty sure english fables talk of Richard the Lion Heart eh.


      • 1. The Crusades weren’t into Persian territory at all
        2. All the crusades were commissioned/authorized by the Pope, initially (first crusade) in response to calls for assistance from the eastern Roman empire (Constantinople). Richard was a feature of the 3rd Crusade, but other than that England wasn’t that prominent. Of key individuals, French ones were typically much more prominent


  3. When you attend an Australian citizenship ceremony, the the inductees get a choice of two versions of the oath of allegiance, one which makes reference to “Under God” and one which doesn’t. In my experience of going to these ceremonies (Eastern Sydney) around half choose the one with the God reference. In my opinion the Australian oath (which is similar to the values statement you quote) gets it about right, even if the language lacks poetry. You also do a simple multichoice quiz designed to test your knowledge of the most rudimentary concepts of democracy.

    Personally, I wouldn’t want any permanent migrants that were less than 100% on board with freedom, democracy and the rule of law, and I’d have no problem with any screening process designed to filter for such. Occasionally symbolism is important.


  4. In practice I suppose neither would I have such an objection, but I doubt it would do much. After all, in the UK at least – and perhaps in Aus – radicalization has been a second generation phenomenon.

    Then again, if the Germans had never let (Austrian) Hitler become a naturalized German just think what the world might have been spared.


  5. There may be some merit in new members of society signing a national value statement in a similar way as there is merit in signing a marriage license. However, of greater importance is what happens in the weeks, years etc after such signing. The signing would likely be merely symbolic and be no guarantee of success. However, if the signing of such a document holds some legal status what happens if the person so concerned fails to uphold such values? If the agreement dissolved, as in a divorce, what happens then?

    As you stated “it is far easier to resolve disputes, and find an ongoing place for each other, among communities with shared memories, experiences and commitments.” Clearly such communities keep adding new members as children who usually integrate into their communities. New migrants can also be integrated in a similar way if given sufficient time and if they are not too large in number so as to overwhelm their new community. Using your example of a family, if a family has more children than resources, then family disfunction will likely occur and I think the same may be true for a society and new migrants.

    If we want new migrants to share and embrace our common values (whatever they may be) it becomes increasingly hard when there are more migrants than we have the social resources needed to intergrate them. My concern is that NZ is moving to becoming a country where the only shared value that we have in common will be Adam Smith’s vile maxim “all for myself and nothing for anyone else” as this seems to be the default value of the human species.


      • It is from ‘The Wealth of Nations’, slightly paraphrased for the context of my response. To quote it word for word – “All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind”.


  6. In respect to the Treaty of Waitangi . As a migrant I was not aware of the treaty but I recognise it as the price of peace. If the British with all the might of their military supremacy could not pummel a few tribesmen into submission, it is wise to try and sign a peace treaty and subjugate with stealth. My total admiration for a defeated people to now use the very tool to now their own advantage.


  7. We have 2 choices, we either respect the treaty and social welfare for what it is, ie the price of peace or we pay for barb wire and armed body guards.


  8. Hi! Thanks for sharing this

    Australian Values Statement is actually something I haven’t head of before thank you for sharing it!
    Here in Australia it seems as though the general consensus is that refugees and long term migrants coming here should completely adapt to our way of life. Aussies like the idea of people coming and adopting all of our values and our beach going sanga eating budgie smuggling way of life.

    My personal view, however is a little different, I am really interested in learning from their culture and integrating that into my own. Having said that i still firmly believe that the people coming here should help keep the peace within our countries and that some of our values that we hold closest should be taught, respect for women for example.

    When i was in Africa part of the relocation programme for Congolese refugees leaving to Australia or the US had to take cultural classes learning about our day to day lives. It was great! There were lessons like what to do in a supermarket, teaching them that only 1 wife is legal in these places, talking about basic politeness and ways we look after our kids that might be different.

    With the global migration crisis that is happening now there is so much movement and not enough time to give people these types of classes which can be vital once relocated to our home countries.

    Whoops sorry for rambling off thank you for writing this interesting article!


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