From the time they left their ancestral Eden, human beings have been migrants. They have also been territorial as illustrated in the phrase "tangata whenua". What happens when migrants come into contact with tangata whenua? That depends on the tikanga of the respective parties. When Tuhourangi lost their lands at Te Wairoa to the Tarawera eruption in 1886 Ngati Whakaue made them welcome and gave land at Ngapuna where they could re-establish themselves, and where many remain to this day. The tikanga that applied was manaakitanga - hospitality to the visitor or stranger - which may be almost as old as the countervailing territorial instinct. That happy migration arrangement between Tuhourangi and Ngati Whakaue may have owed something to the fact that the the two tribes were closely related within the Arawa waka, but more fundamentally the hospitality of Ngati Whakaue was extended because both Tuhourangi and Ngati Whakaue subscribed to the tikanga of manaakitanga.
Should New Zealanders use their status of tangata whenua to show the same spirit of manaakitanga to the thousands of would be immigrants who want to settle in this country? Perhaps they should. But they are unlikely to do so for a very simple reason. Neither they nor the immigrants have a strong commitment to manaakitanga. The New Zealanders of today are obsessed with territoriality - under the legal guise of "property" - and so, the evidence suggests, are most, if not all of the new immigrants and would-be immigrants. That does not mean that strife between immigrants and those who consider themselves to be tangata whenua or native New Zealanders is inevitable, but it definitely raises the odds on conflict.
The often cited fact that all nations are made up of migrants has little moral or practical impact. Once people have established themselves in a land, or on a piece of property, the territorial instinct takes charge by default. New arrivals may be discouraged, resisted or evicted, and the only way of mitigating that territorial instinct is through a strong tikanga which respects the situation, rights, interests and desires of both tangata whenua and manuhiri.
The questions around immigration into New Zealand in 2016 are of course much more complex than the plight of Tuhourangi in 1886. People are migrating to New Zealand for a great range of reasons, and there are similarly wide-ranging consequences for native New Zealanders. Government corruption, both here and abroad, has further complicated the immigration debate.
In settled times the natural ebb and flow of migration takes place on a small scale and has little discernable social impact. Mass migrations occur in times of crisis, principally war and famine (or at a lower level political conflict and economic distress). They depopulate the countries in crisis and profoundly change the demographic structure of the countries in which the migrants seek refuge. Such migrations are largely spontaneous and the decision to migrate is made by the migrants themselves, with the receiving countries at best playing a passive role. They have occurred throughout history, with one of the earliest recorded examples being the movement of the people of Israel into and out of Egypt.
There have also been contrived mass migrations, engineered by imperial powers for reasons of state. An early example would be the forced removal of the people of Israel by the Babylonians, and their subsequent repatriation to the land of Israel by the Persians. The organised and planned mass movement of peoples, with its origins in antiquity, was raised to an art form by the British empire. Tamils were moved to Sri Lanka, Indians to Africa and Fiji, Africans to the Caribbean and North America, Melanesians to Queensland, Chinese and Indians to Singapore and Malaya, Jews to Palestine, and British people themselves were moved in relatively small numbers to the British Asian, African, Mediterranean, Caribbean and Polynesian territories, and in large numbers to North America, Australia and New Zealand. These movements were neither accidental nor spontaneous. They had clearly defined economic, political and military objectives. The purposes were to support the development of the cotton industry in North America, rubber production in Malaya, rice and tea in Sri Lanka, sugar in Fiji and the Caribbean, wheat in Australia and North America, gold, timber, meat, dairy products and wool in New Zealand and so on. There were also broader geopolitical objectives surrounding the establishment of a global seaborne empire which needed coaling and provisioning for its ships in all seven seas, and subject populations able to be conscripted in time of war. Migration was one of the most important instruments of imperial policy. Within countries such as South Africa and New Zealand the British also pioneered forced internal migrations through the use of concentration camps to neutralize recalcitrant native populations.
New Zealand fits the model of planned mass migrations within the territories of the British empire. The first plans were formulated by the New Zealand Company in the late 1830s. The Treaty of Waitangi was designed to facilitate this planned migration and the wars of the 1860s were fought to remove the remaining obstacles to migration. In fact, mass immigration has been the central policy of the New Zealand state since its foundation in 1840. That makes New Zealand almost unique among the nations of the world, with one obvious exception being of the State of Israel. Most mature nations concentrate their efforts on economic and social development as a means of achieving stability, but nations like Israel, and more particularly New Zealand rely on immigration for their political survival. For New Zealand immigration is the lazy and dumb alternative to intelligent economic development. So New Zealand is rather like a country riding a bicycle. If it stops moving, if or when the immigration flow stops, the economy is in danger of falling over. The problem is that at some point the bicycle has to come to a stop.
Whatever the government may say, the motive for building a society of immigrants is as much political as economic. Just as Israel needs to keep increasing its Jewish population in order to maintain numerical superiority over the Arabs of Israel and the West Bank, the New Zealand government has needed a constant inflow of new immigrants to maintain its links to the British empire, and to keep the native (New Zealand born) population in a state of political subordination.
The policy was well articulated by Premier Sir Julius Vogel in 1870 when he told Parliament "the balancing of the numbers of the two races by a large European immigration - will do more to put an end to hostilities and to confirm peaceful relations, than an army of ten thousand men". This statement was made at a time when the number of Europeans already exceeded the number of natives, so to Vogel "balancing" clearly meant an overwhelming and dominant majority of Europeans. He also frankly acknowledged that immigration policy was a civil war strategy. Immigration would put an end to the fighting, because it would leave the natives hopelessly out-numbered. In the same speech Vogel noted "what sheep breeding (is) to the run-holder...are immigrants, if they become settlers, to the state". That must rank as one of the most candid statements in New Zealand political history. Vogel saw that just as people farm sheep, the state farms people. Immigration increases stock numbers and, more importantly, brings in new blood lines which yield a more placid, easily domesticated citizenry. It was not designed to serve the interests of the immigrants themselves, and certainly was not designed to benefit the native population.
These days the stock political postulate is that immigration is intended to help the economy which works in the interests of all New Zealanders, but the real purpose of immigration remains exactly what it was in Vogel's day. Politicians often talk of the economy as though it was a thing in itself, a person, a family, corporation or state, which has interests of its own. That is a deception. People, firms and states have interests within an economy, but the economy has no interests of its own, just as the weather has no interests of its own even though people may have (often conflicting) interests in the weather. The invisible hand does not attach to an invisible torso. Immigration policy primarily serves the interests of the state, and secondarily the interests of those who control the state. No more than wet weather on the one hand, or dry weather on the other, can immigration be of universal economic benefit.
Immigrants to New Zealand have always been a mixed bag. In the early days, escaped convicts, runaway sailors, and Christian missionaries. Later on remittance men, bankrupts, religious idealists and dispossessed agricultural labourers. In the present day the same strange mix of social idealists, environmentalists, medical practitioners, scientists and technologists along with white racists from Southern Africa, corrupt capitalists and public officials from East Asia, self-seeking bureaucrats with a highly developed sense of personal entitlement from Anglo-Saxon nations.
The native response to immigration has been equally mixed. In the early nineteenth century Maori welcomed immigrants who could introduce new technologies, facilitate trade and initiate certain specific cultural changes. In the process some of them also welcomed grog dealers, the tobacco trade, and the mixed blessings of European firearms. The problem is that every influx of new immigrants reduces the amount of land available for the use by the native population, and that was one reason, perhaps the primary reason, why some Maori began to resist land sales, and by implication immigration. On the other hand some Maori were always willing to sell land, and since those willing to sell claimed rights over considerable areas of coveted land, the amount of land in Maori hands declined inexorably, even before the wars and the confiscations.
Mass immigration, conquest and dispossession were not things that just happened to Maori. They were part of the process, and if Maori had not been riven by conflicting loyalties and desires history would have taken a very different course. The present native population of New Zealand is behaving in remarkably similar ways. Many support immigration for the perceived benefits it brings, including the facilitation of trade, technology, cultural diversity, easier ways of living and getting by, and, importantly, the opportunity to sell land. As with Maori, some of the benefits of new technology and cultures are overstated, many of the benefits of property sales are frittered away and not all New Zealanders (in fact only a small minority) have a share in those benefits. As was the case with Maori, there is no united front among native New Zealanders on the question of immigration because there is no real sense in which they feel themselves to be a people with an obligation to their own kind.
Mass immigration is stressing New Zealand society at a time when it has already been fractured and disoriented by the social and economic restructuring.of the fourth Labour government. There is little prospect that the nation will be able to deal with the stresses of migrant inflows in a deliberate, coherent and effective manner. The on-going, never-ending "housing hernia" saga is the most obvious example of how New Zealand now seems incapable of managing the consequences of an immigration policy that has been pretty well unchanged for the past two hundred years. The old policies no longer work as well as they did during the last great waves of immigration, for example in the 1870s, 1920s and 1950s. That is hardly surprising. The world has changed, and more to the point, New Zealand has changed. In the late nineteenth century the New Zealand state had a clearly thought out strategy for accommodating the immigrants. Vogel began building the railways, which opened up vast areas of land for productive settlement. His predecessor, Sir George Grey, had already neutralized the threat from Maori nationalism. The present New Zealand state lacks the wit, the will and the wherewithal to follow his example. It can do nothing, and it is doing nothing to either forestall a nationalist backlash, or to provide for the needs of the immigrants. Even though Vogel believed in the "thoroughly reproductive nature of immigration" in an "underpopulated country" he was at pains to ensure that immigration was "judiciously managed". A century and a half later, his successors in a much more densely populated country have no conception of what "judicious management" would even look like.
28 February 2017