On Thursday morning amidst filter coffee and scones at Parliament the Office of Ethnic Communities will transform into the Ministry for Ethnic Communities. It will have a similar budget, almost all the same staff and responsibilities with the main crowning difference being that the head of the agency will bloom from being a mere ‘executive director’ into the formidable ‘chief executive’ with all the trappings it entails.

Simply put, the Ministry is a paper tiger. It is limp, it won’t see any new and exciting developments for ethnic communities and will still be sitting within the wider Department of Internal Affairs corporate services umbrella.  We have seen no website, no strategic plans for this new Ministry and lacklustre consultation that was terribly advertised and ill planned many across New Zealand’s diverse ethnic communities. Many are deeply concerned at the lack of mana or effectiveness Labour’s proposed Ministry will have under the first ever Ethnic Communities Minister to be outside of Cabinet since the inception of the portfolio.

Our Ethnic Communities just want to see real respect and equal engagement opportunities to help facilitate the growth of our cultures and communities to belong. The Ministry Labour have created won’t achieve that. Ethnic New Zealanders are being disrespected by Labour but that’s nothing new.

This Government treated ethnic businesses and families as second class citizens during COVID-19. From systematic discrimination in their refusal for ethnic food stores to remain open during lockdown last year to being the last cab off the rank for media support and information services in their public media funding. It is appalling the Office of Ethnic Communities failed to step up at the time. It’s appalling the Government isn’t stepping up now and they can’t even blame NZ First for their failure.


The Government is still failing to provide timely information and services to communities as Wellington sits in Level 2 and constant anxiety exists across New Zealand regarding the future of our border, immigration settings and the economy, all issues of incredible importance to ethnic New Zealanders, particularly recent migrants with family overseas. There is no indication this will change in the Government’s plan for a Ministry.


The reason why I raise these concerns at the outset of the establishment of the Ministry is simple. Whether it is COVID-19, the impact of deep political divides internationally or a continuation of existing prejudices from our nation’s history, once again in New Zealand there is a growing feeling of intolerance among certain communities for those from ethnic and migrant backgrounds that is feeding into bad decision making and law changes by this Government  such as the dystopian  and misleading proposals  regarding the future of hate speech and content regulation that would stifle rather than aid a real national conversation to be facilitated for the betterment of our nation.


I’ve been called a Chinese spy (BTW I’m Korean!) I’ve been told to go back to Korea, China, India and even Australia, a former Political leader has named me Pyongyang and above all, on an almost daily basis despite being a 5th term elected Member of New Zealand’s Parliament I’ve received the stares and sideways glances as to what I’m doing here in our Houses of Parliament or on the streets of our country.

It isn’t an elephant in the room that New Zealand still has a problem with racism. It’s an open secret. In fact it’s beyond open we know of it and as a society we say it isn’t us. The number of calls and vitriolic insults I and my office have gotten that have started with “I’m not a racist but…” would boggle the mind of many Kiwis and we need to think what the rationale is for even making these comments in a diverse society that is growing ever more multicultural with each generation.

Our Government needs to give Ethnic Communities respect and an agency that will do a real job representing and supporting the needs of Ethnic New Zealanders. Again, I contend this sham of a ‘Ministry for Ethnic Communities’ will be a paper tiger without the real autonomy other Ministry such as Women and Pacific Peoples hold – it will still be a corporate arm of the Department of Internal Affairs without the real ‘mana’ required to get things done. In effect it will be business as usual and the Ministry won’t even have a Minister at the Cabinet table to argue our case. We need a real Ministry with better outreach to educate and influence. New Zealand has a diverse wonder in our population of cultures that can only enhance our nation’s future.

What do you say?



MELISSA LEE is National Party Member of Parliament and Spokesperson for Broadcasting & Media| Digital Economy and Communications | Ethnic Communities