Wednesday, December 8

Unless New Zealand wants to be a ‘fortress’, it must engage more with kiwis abroad | Elle hunt


WWhat does a New Zealander do outside of New Zealand? An accent (which can be lost) or a passport (which can be bought)? Is it a set of irrevocable rights, an identity that anyone can claim and no one can question? Or does it depend on how often you return?

What if you don’t know when you’ll be coming home?

If it sounds like a thought experiment, it’s one that Jacinda Ardern’s government is under increasing pressure to commit to. For the last 18 months of the pandemic, New Zealand has been largely off-limits to international visitors, including citizens residing abroad.

I was lucky enough to return just before Christmas, on the hiatus before the UK variant stormed the world. Since then, the barriers to entering Aotearoa from abroad have become immense. Some are necessary to protect public health and commendable as part of Ardern’s best practice pandemic response; others are the result of systems and policies that could be improved. All are experienced unevenly in line with social and economic inequality.

But the bottom line is that New Zealanders abroad, believed to be 1 million, at least before the pandemic, have been prevented from returning home, and to some extent by their government. In particular, the reservation system for quarantined hotels, where the demand for rooms far exceeds their availability, although thousands are empty – has been a constant source of frustration.

For months, the only way to secure a place has been “cheat” by using a bot to refresh the page faster than a person can. This week, the government finally responded to the criticism, introducing a random queue to make the reservation more transparent and equitable. But how journalist David Farrier foundBy joining the “virtual lobby” to find 15,000 people lined up in front of it, the new system does not address the supply problem.

Decisions from above about who to make room for have added to the sense of injustice. A New Zealand woman in El Salvador with a high-risk pregnancy and little time to fly was rejected a emergency place quarantined six times, and only succeeded after initiate legal action Against the government. The Wiggles, and the cast and crew of The Lion King theater show had been greeted through.

The Ardern government was right to stop international arrivals early last year, just as it is correct to manage them carefully now. But his apparent lack of care and compassion for New Zealanders abroad, plus a heated public debate about their “right to return,” which Ardern has done little to calm, has led many to feel alienated from their national identity.

Now the question of New Zealand’s relationship with its diaspora is squarely at hand, and the government is considering a law change that will either assert its claim to the country from afar or, if it does not pass, consolidate them as second-class citizens. .

Under current electoral law, Kiwis living abroad must visit every three years in order to vote. (For residents it is 12 months). Pre-pandemic, this struck the right balance between acknowledging your connection to the country, without opening it up to undue influence.

Now, however, coming home is not only expensive, it is almost out of reach. Many New Zealanders (me among them) unable to give his opinion in previous elections, and with border restrictions expected to remain in place for the foreseeable future, that number will increase. If the law is not changed before next year’s local body elections and the 2023 general elections, tens of thousands or more may lose their right to vote.

The Herald reports which would be the largest massive disenfranchisement of New Zealanders since at least 2010, when the national government stripped prisoners of voting rights (overridden by Labor in 2019).

The Greens have been pushing to extend the rule from three years to six as part of the response to the pandemic, but Justice Minister Kris Faafoi has said he intends to be guided by the recommendations of a parliamentary investigation currently underway. on the 2020 elections. The result will be revealing of how New Zealand values ​​its citizens from afar.

The fact is, New Zealand has never before, in modern times, been as far removed from the rest of the world as it is now, and that recalibration goes beyond the question of open or closed borders and how long the line should go. quarantine. in the pillars of our national identity. Always, for example, we have prided ourselves on surpassing ourselves on the world stage and broadening our horizons with “overseas experiences.”

Unless New Zealand now designs itself (like Australia) as a ‘fortress’ with a drawbridge that is up or down, and those within whose voices matter and those who are excluded who do not, consideration must be given to how to interact with the Kiwis abroad, even if they are not trying to get home.

One way would be for the government to appoint a “minister for the diaspora” as in Ireland, where Colm Murphy has been advocating for citizens abroad and working to smooth out “this period of physical disconnect between the Irish at home and abroad” .

“Now that we are finally back together in person, I look forward to becoming more directly involved with our diaspora networks and welcoming as many of you home as possible,” said Murphy. in June– a simple declaration of compassion that presents Ireland as the sum of its people, wherever they may be.

Extending voter eligibility could do something similar to bring New Zealand’s diaspora back into the fold. Of the legendary 1 million Kiwis abroad, only 60,000 voted in the last two elections, suggesting that relaxing the three-year rule is unlikely to tip the balance of power abroad. But it would be a meaningful statement to send to New Zealanders who cannot be there in person, who have been counted from afar.


www.theguardian.com

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