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Trying to understand Brown

It is difficult to find a non-cynical interpretation of Peter Brown’s recent anti-Asian comments.  Perhaps, based on the relative success of Winston Peters’ line on immigration six years ago, he thought he could score some decent points on recent immigration statistics.  Perhaps he thought, with Peters bound by Cabinet policy as Foreign Minister, he needed to take the initiative.

More than anything else, though, he has committed one of the worst blunders possible in New Zealand politics.  His comments have put him on the defensive.  Both major parties have spoken against him.  The Greens said “white supremacist”, the employers’ union “racial stereotyping of the worst sort”.  In fact, he was even having to justify himself to one of his own colleagues, who had to make it clear to media that there were no plans to play the “race card” this year.

He basically opened himself up to attack, and everyone made the most of it.  Any benefit of the doubt, realising his comments might have been misinterpreted, however, are dispelled by a quick examination of what he said:

“The rapid rise in the Asian population is driven mainly by immigration and both National and Labour are equally culpable.  […] The matter is serious.  If we continue this open door policy there is real danger we will be inundated with people who have no intention of integrating into our society.  The greater the number, the greater the risk.  They will form their own mini-societies to the detriment of integration and that will lead to division, friction and resentment. This country deserves better than that.”

Naturally, he later conceded that Asian immigrants do make a good contribution, and clarified that he was pointing to the risk of division happening.  For benefit of the doubt, we assume that he believes the majority of Asian immigrants integrate successfully.  In this case, he is suggesting that we should give up many skilled Asian migrants due to the behaviour of a small few.  We ignore the possibility that such “mini-societies” are formed by many groups, ethnic and otherwise, with negligible overall social effect.

Alternatively, it might a be suggestion that with more people in a few mini-societies, a higher proportion eventually get drawn towards them.  Or—cynically—that such “mini-societies” form a significant minority of Asians.  The foolishness of both assertions is self-evident.

But the fact that we need to second-guess his intentions demonstrates a valid point.  His big mistake here was not to specify a model, a remedy for how this “concern” of his would be resolved.  Doing so would have helped him clarify his comments, making him more believable.  Failing to do so not only gives political opponents the chance to make out the worst of it, but means he has to explain himself afterwards, and in politics, explaining is losing.
 

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