The National Party, under its new leadership, seems to be having a problem with “ethnicity,” thereby risking the hard-earned gains made during the Key-English era.
In the Party’s latest tryst with ethnicity, the MP from Clutha-Southland Hamish Walker has been called racist for categorically stigmatising returning Kiwis from “India, Pakistan and Korea.”
The MP had issued a press release on Thursday, July 2, which claims that up to 11,000 people from “India, Pakistan and Korea” could be heading to Dunedin, Invercargill and Queenstown for quarantine, without any consultation with the locals.
The Minister in charge of Quarantine facilities Megan Woods was quick to call him out as racist - a charge that the MP has brazenly rejected so far - and in fact has counter alleged that the government was indulging in diversionary tactics from its border management.
The earlier ethnicity-related issue under the new leader Todd Muller was the apparent absence of ethnic-diversity (read Maori faces) in the front benches of the Party’s revamped caucus in the parliament after the leadership change.
Interestingly, the Party has found itself indulging again in an ethnicity-related issue on the very same day when the leader Todd Muller had sought to push things under the carpet, by finally elevating their Maori colleague Dr Shane Reti up in the rankings.
A momentary lapse of judgement or a well-thought-out plan
It’s not clear if it was a mere coincidence or part of a well-thought-out electoral tactic that the Party has crafted under the new leadership - of keeping the ethnicity related issues on the burner - in order to shore up some votes that have recently fled away from the Party.
The fact that the MP’s comments were well-drafted in a press release, unlike an unwanted slip of the tongue in any media-interview on the fly, does suggest that this was a well-thought-out action, probably with tacit support from the new leader.
Clearly, if Mr Walker’s genuine goal was to raise the bogey of the lack of local consultation before bringing people returning from overseas for quarantine facilities then probably he could have learned the lesson from his own Party’s MP from Rotorua, Todd McClay, who had also sought to make similar noises when the government had first sent people for quarantining to Rotorua, albeit without any name-shaming of places of origin.
At that instance as well, National has raised the bogey of the absence of local consultation before any quarantining of returning Kiwis, however, Todd McClay had stopped short of any name-shaming of people from Asia.
The bogey of “lack of local consultation on quarantine facilities”
The issue of absence of local consultation before quarantining people returning from overseas that the National Party is so passionately raising, is indeed a bogey, for the simple reason that it does not align with the party’s relentless pressure on the government for opening of borders.
The government has been extremely cautious while the National has been overly ambitious on this important issue of opening of borders, without the need of having to bear any responsibility-pressure of delivering what it claims is urgently needed and doable within given constraints.
On one hand, the National continues to pounce upon the government to ramp up quarantine facilities and to open borders as leaving borders is “untenable,” then simultaneously, on the other hand, it continues to raise non-existent issues of shifting quarantining facilities to distant regional centres.
It is given that only major urban centres alone cannot cope up with quarantining facilities if NZ has to open up borders as per National’s ambitions and plans anytime soon.
We will need humongous numbers of quarantine facilities and a robust border management plan in place if we have to return to anywhere near to the pre-Covid-19 world.
The idea of local consultation before quarantining will be beginning of stigmatising
Moreover, the idea of local consultation before establishing any quarantining facility will be the beginning of stigmatising people in the new post-Covid-19 world - a much repugnant idea - unless not quashed in its embryonic stage.
Otherwise soon we can find ourselves living in a world where everything related to overseas travel could snowball into a full-blown stigmatised inequality, and to quote Todd Muller’s own words “it will be difficult to identify New Zealand as we identify with it today.”
Stirring up “attitudes towards Asia” - Is it part of electoral tactic under new leader
Anyway, there seems to be no compelling need for the categoric name shaming of countries of Asia (ignoring other countries from the global West), in Mr Walker’s press release, other than the political need of stirring the hornet’s nest around some crude issues such as pc versus anti-pc debate, the pandora box of immigration and attitudes towards Asia, to craft a return of voters who have left National’s fold in the recent times.
The ensuing debate that has erupted on social media does suggest that many emotions have already been stirred around these deep-rooted issues in our society, sharpening their preferences and dislikings - suggesting their election-readiness - something that the National Party in opposition is deeply counting upon.
The successive recent polls (Colmar/Brunton & Newshub/Reid) has clearly suggested that of all those who are currently consuming daily politics, are still bewitched with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her success in managing the health management side of Covid-19 pandemic.
Clearly, National is under pressure to find new voters, and the tactics that have so far emerged under the new leadership shows that the Party is choosing to move away from the heydays of the Key-English era that was largely based on coalition building with all ethnicities.
Under the new leadership, it seems, unless proved otherwise, that the Party is slowly and deliberately keeping ethnicity related issues on the burner and hoping to find new voters from deep rural and regional centres.