The Royal Commission’s report on Auckland’s governance provided some weighty reading, somewhat reminiscent of the infamous Royal Commission on Social Policy in the late 1980s. But this time round, the action has started.
The ambitions are reasonably clear : to tidy up the city’s governance and to achieve much better economic outcomes. The Royal Commission offered some answers to the question of who might be the beneficiary’s of either ambition reasonably clear. Notions such as ‘cultural well-being’ and ‘priority populations’ appeared in parts of the report. But there are some puzzling omissions and a failure to connect certain dots.
Auckland city now has one of the highest proportions of immigrants of any city, certainly in the OECD. Since 2000, the country has had the highest rate of immigration per head of population in the OECD which has put us ahead of Canada and on par with Australia. Auckland has been a major recipient of these arrivals and a little under 40% of the city’s residents were born in another country. (The same figure for Sydney is 32%). The arrival of Indian and Chinese immigrants, especially since 2000, has helped transform the feel of some suburbs and retail areas. In the case of the Chinese community, they now number more than 100,000 and about a third have arrived since 2001 – and nearly all of them have come from China.
This post-1987 migration adds new layers to the earlier and ongoing migration from the Pacific. This immigrant and ethnic diversity did not go unnoticed by the Royal Commission and those who wrote reports on various aspects of Auckland. (Phil McDermott offered some interesting insights on demographic change and future directions). But this is where it gets puzzling. These immigrants are treated as a helpful addition to the local skills pool with benefits for employers. And there are new and culturally different communities that need to be considered in various ways (the dreaded strategy of ‘consultation’ appears to be the main mechanism here) in areas such as health and housing. Diversity is nice but does not appear to be critical to the city’s economic success.
Of course, by the time the government produced its response, many of the acknowledgements made in the Royal Commission’s report were either missing or had been watered down. The response, Making Auckland Greater, was subtitled ‘greater communities, greater connections, greater value’. Diversity was still good but not central to what we do.
But to backtrack, there is a legacy apparent here. The new immigration policy began in 1987 and reflected the hallmark of its political masters. New Zealand would go out and recruit the best and brightest the world had to offer but unlike Canada and Australia, they would be on their own once the set foot in New Zealand. Weren’t most of them highly educated, well experienced and had their own financial resources? Why should the state offer anything to help in their settlement? This meshed well with local business and economic development which was not interested in ‘ethnic programmes’ except possibly as a way of helping impoverished Pacific communities.
We did come to realise that even well educated and skilled immigrants needed some help and there have been a number of developments since 2000. But there are still few in the business community or among politicians who seem to connect the fact that successful city economies are typically marked by cultural diversity and this diversity contributes directly to innovation and international business connections. Richard Florida’s latest book on cities makes this point very clearly.
If the Royal Commission had looked at Vancouver (for example), why did they not pick up on the way that the city uses what they call ‘diversity planning’ as a core part of its business? Cultural diversity is not some exotic backdrop that provides good food and the odd festival. Immigrants have some serious international connections; they know the markets we are selling into; they provide new trade links and opportunities. Locally, they grow new businesses and new business sectors. They contribute disproportionately to research and development (about half of Silicon Valley employees are immigrants).
So I am left with two omissions which puzzle me. Why hasn’t the connection been made between immigration and future economic growth? The Royal Commission discussion tends to treat cultural diversity (which they acknowledge as important) as unconnected to the economic development of the city. The second issue is the one of governance. Here the Royal Commission did spend some time discussing how ethnic communities might be represented in the new structure. But, in the end, rejected recommending any particular arrangements except to say that consultation was important. Which again is disappointing. With the exception of Maori, the sort of democratic systems of participation and representation we currently have are not particularly inclusive. (MMP has been something of a success story at a national level although this might be more by accident than design).
Things might yet change but I am not holding my breath. The government’s response tends to suggest there is limited enthusiasm for any active recognition and or the explicit involvement of ethnic and immigrant communities in the business and political systems that are now being discussed. A city like Vancouver or Toronto could teach us a lot but we seem slow to learn in terms of what works. And we struggle to even begin the process of developing an active and inclusive multiculturalism.
Professor Paul Spoonley
Regional Director (Albany)
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Professor Spoonley is among speakets at this weekend's Rising Dragons, Soaring Bananas International Conference.