Stats Dept seeks feedback on ethnicity stats

April 27, 2009

Who am I?

That’s a fundamental question of identity and one which government agencies think they have a better answer to than those of us who identify as New Zealanders because most official forms which seek to know our ethnicity won’t let us give that answer.

For years when I couldn’t find an ethnicity which matched how I felt I ticked other, and put New Zealander if asked to specify what that meant. Those who deal with the stats would then have included me under European which I consider to be racist because by doing so they were saying that New Zealanders were only of European descent.

Now most forms have New Zealander of European descent so I tick that,  but I do it with reluctance, partly because I feel ethnically that I’m of Scottish descent rather than European. But even more because I’m uncomfortable that while I can be a New Zealander people of other descents aren’t always given an option of being one of any flavour, they’re Maori or Pacific Islanders or Asian or European.

The picture becomes even more clouded because the census allows you to be more specific than Pacific Islander and identify as Samoan, Cook Island Maori, Tongan, Niuean, Chinese or Indian and gives examples Dutch, Japanese and Tokelauan as examples under other.

Isn’t there something wrong with their reaonsing if you can be Dutch which is definitely European but not a  New Zealander which isn’t European though may be of that descent? 

I think part of the problem is that we’re not sure exactly what’s meant by ethnic group. If the question was about race it would be much simpler, but that’s not the same thing as ethnicity.

On the cesnus form it’s defined as:

 . . . people who have some or all of the following characteristics:

a common proper name

one or more elements of common culture, such as religion, customs or

language

a unique community of interests, feelings and actions

a shared sense of common origins or ancestry

a common geographic origin.

 The OED defines ethnic, in relation to a population group as:  sharing a distinctive cultural and historical tradition, often associated with race, nationality or religion, by which the group identifies itself and others recognise it . . .

Often associated with  is not the same thing as only being and following both the Stats and OED definitions I’m even more certain I’m a New Zealander, albeit of Scottish descent, because the distinctive cultural and historical traditions which I identify with most strongly are New Zealand ones.

Perhaps we could learn from the USA because they enable people to identify as, for example Afro Americans, Native Americans or Asian Americans . . . which acknowledges both the cultural and historical things which differentiate them as well as those they have in common. (Although in a typical US centric-fashion that does ignore the fact that the millions of people in the many other countries in North, Central and South America also regard themselves as American).

However, that aside, I think the USA’s approach could be the answer to the dilemma facing Statistics NZ which has resulted in the release a discussion paper on the way ethnicity statistics are collected and reported .

This has been prompted by the debate over the inclusion of the category New Zealander  in the official census and the consequent difficulty in matching stats from previous years and with other official sources such as birth registrations which didn’t or still don’t offer that option.

Stats are important and they need to be accurate, reliable and to be compared, but they also need to reflect reality and I think that the reality has changed. 

My mother, like many of her generation, called Britain Home, with a capital h even if they’d never been there. That would be most uncommon now because many of the ties which bound us to Britain have been cut and we are much more independent in our outlook and our identity.

The categories in official forms need to change in response to that and enable us, like people in the USA, to answer the who-am-I? question by recognising the cultural and historical things which unite us as well as those which make us different.

Let those of us who consider ourselves to be New Zealanders be counted as such and satisfy the statisticians’ and planners’ need to be more specific with sub-categories which recognise our descent as well.

P.S. Feedback to the discussion paper can be emailed to: ethnicity.review@stats.govt.nz, until May 25th.

UPDATE: PM of NZ is quite sure who he is.


Fruit Rots for Want of Pickers

June 24, 2008

Australia is borrowing our ideas to help solve their problems with a shortage of seasonal workers:

FRED Tassone is one of scores of operators of orchards, market gardens and vineyards across the country who cannot find enough workers to pick their produce.

Despite more than 460,000 people being officially unemployed in Australia, the chronic labour shortage in the horticulture industry has reached the point where fruit has been left rotting on trees, and vegetables are left in the ground.

The federal Government is evaluating a recently completed trial of a seasonal workers program in New Zealand, generally regarded as successful by government and industry alike. Soon the sight of Pacific Islanders in fields across Australia may be commonplace.

A decision on a pilot of a program allowing Pacific Islanders short-term visas of up to six months is expected in the next few weeks. Pacific leaders have long advocated the freer movement of labour.

The use of Pacific workers helped orchardists in Central Otago last summer, and also added vibrancy to the community. A group of workers, with beautiful voices, used to busk at Wanaka’s Sunday market.

The mining boom in Western Australia has attracted many people who might once have been prepared to do the hard physical work in the orchards and vineyards.

“It doesn’t matter whether the unemployment rate is 5 per cent or 50 per cent, Australia’s unemployed don’t want to do our work,” Mr Tassone said.

“Unskilled workers can make up to $1200 a week, but Australians just don’t want to do it.”

Jonathan Nathundriwa, 30, from Fiji, who works on a farm next to Mr Tassone’s, said local unemployed people were not interested in the hard physical work required.

On the other hand, the Islanders would be delighted to earn a decent income, Mr Nathundriwa said.

“My family back in Fiji are busting their chops for $10 a day,” he said.

“I would love to be able to give them employment.”

He could also be talking about the dairy industry here.

 Gay Tripodi, who runs stone-fruit operation Murrawee Farms at Swan Hill, in Victoria, said backpackers were not a solution.

“For God’s sake, they’re a nightmare,” she said. “It’s not their fault – most are good kids, but 99 per cent have never been on a farm.

“We need workers who can stay with us for the duration of the season, five to six months.

“We can train them up and then they return to us the following year. We have been really struggling. The situation is dramatic.”

We have a similar problem with people unaccustomed to farms who think they want to work in dairying. It would be great to be able to employ seasonal workers on dairy farms in the same way orchards do. If we could we might look further than the Pacific Islands. We’ve had good workers from Argentina and Chile and neighbours are equally positive about workers from Uruguay.


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