The last decade has been hugely important for New Zealand’s identity and its ethnic and religious composition. The country has become one of the most super diverse in the high-income world – and that diversity has occurred very rapidly.

A couple of key statistics: between 2013 and 2018, the country saw a net gain of 260,000 from permanent migration. This has never been seen before and per head of population, is larger than most (if not all) OECD countries.

StatsNZ released the latest arrival numbers last week. The numbers show that 2019 saw the largest one year gain from migration ever (although StatsNZ also said they might need to revise these figures).

And then COVID 19 hit. We are going to go from an all-time high to a trickle of arrivals over the next year. What happens after that is anyone’s guess.

For the record, I think we will see a slow increase in mobility and migration but do not expect to see much in the next year. The critical turning point will probably be a vaccination.

After that, it will depend on what other countries do. New Zealand appears to have flattened the curve in a way that few other countries have. The fact that we are COVID 19-free is going to be a huge brand advantage on a global stage.

The important question is what will happen elsewhere. We have already seen countries like the USA and Hungary use COVID 19 as an excuse to curtail migration (as everyone has) but then to go further in terms of both future boundary controls and punitive measures against migrants already in the country.

I suspect that New Zealand might have to develop a series of bilateral arrangements with countries that are COVID 19 free or have good testing and certification, rather than being open slather, at least over the next 3-5 years.

COVID 19 will disrupt and change a lot of what we do.

New Zealand has done extremely well through the acute phase, with good leadership, policies driven by health professionals and evidence, and extremely high levels of compliance with government instructions, arguably the highest levels of any country.

Professor Paul Spoonley, Massey University

But the next stage is going to be difficult, especially as some of our major industries, employers and businesses come under pressure. 

There will be failures. There will be much higher levels of unemployment. There will be anxiety and distress.

Our experience tells us that migrant and minority ethnic communities will be some of the hardest hit (newest to the labour market, less local experience) but they might also be communities that have resources and a level of resilience that others do not have.

They have strong community organisations and networks. They work well together, and they are very co-operative. Let’s hope this is the case.

But these communities need to maintain broad connections, both within their own community (Who needs help? What is the latest information about government aid and how to access it?) and within the wider community. The media have, in the past, played an enormously important role. They are even more important now.

The collapse of the Bauer media empire in New Zealand is a stark warning about what might happen. The media are in trouble. They were before the COVID 19 crises, and they are even more vulnerable now.

Why should we care?

I have a real problem with the information that is normally available online if it is not sourced by professionals and filtered by being fact-checked. The impacts of an unfiltered online world have become obvious with what happened on the 15 March last year at two Christchurch mosques. 

The potential for misinformation and posting hate and vitriol online, along with the possibility of self-radicalisation were all played out for all the world to see in March 2019. Conspiracies concerning COVID 19 are now circulating, quite apart from what be offered as advice from a certain President.

The professionalism of the media is critical in understanding the complex world around us, as well as being a source of entertainment. And in a super-diverse society, it is equally critical that we have media which reflect the voices of what are now major ethnic and immigrant communities. 

We see ourselves in this media. It explains how one community or another sees the world and allows this world to be accessed by non-members of that community. (Look at how willing our politicians always make themselves available to ethnic media).

What is at risk is that the professional media will be replaced by the anarchic and inaccurate world of anyone who is able to post something online. And the chances are that what is posted will not be from New Zealand.

As we emerge from this acute phase of COVID 19 and we begin to see what will survive and what won’t, my hope is that we continue to support local media that can tell us what is happening in a truthful and helpful way and that our diverse voices will be reflected in this altered media landscape.

In the diverse Aotearoa New Zealand of the 21st century, we need good and accurate information sources. These help build stronger communities as we discuss important matters with known and verified facts.

We talk to other communities so that we are not in silos and we share little in common. The media bring us together.

We understand the situation of others, in this case, others who do not share our language, ethnicity or religion. The media are a critical part of what is normally referred to as bridging social capital. The media provide bridges within and between communities.

Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley, Massey University, is involved in a large research project looking at the impacts of immigration on New Zealand and he is part of a new centre concerned with social resilience, Koi Tu, led by Sir Peter Gluckman.