Andrew Little: NZ must say no to Donald Trump's 'poisonous prejudice'

  • 30/01/2017
Donald Trump (Getty)
Donald Trump (Getty)

OPINION: Back in 1987 the then Labour Government brought an end to one of the most racist policies New Zealand has ever enacted. Until then, successive New Zealand Governments had both actively promoted immigration from Great Britain, Ireland and Europe and actively discouraged immigration from other parts of the world, particularly Asia.

It wasn't a secret. Governments openly spoke of an immigration system based firmly on the principle that New Zealand was, and intended to remain, a country of European development.

What was acceptable in the early to mid-20th century gradually became intolerable as people came to realise that it wasn't just discriminatory to block people of a particular race, religion or country of birth from entering New Zealand, it was also against our best interests as a nation. Things began to change under the Kirk Labour Government in 1974, but it was only in 1987 that race-based immigration was completely replaced with a skills-based points system.

At the same time, the Government established a system for accepting refugees. Again it was not based on race, religion or country of birth but on need - assessed in an open and transparent way.

New Zealand was not alone in moving away from racist immigration policies. Enlightened nations around the world came to understand that intolerance was detrimental to the development of their societies and economies. We had learned about the importance of connectedness, of the vigour that diversity can bring to our communities and the important role treating people with decency played in maintaining peace around the world.

That all makes United States President Trump's decision to block people from certain Muslim countries and refugees from entering America all the more abhorrent. It marks a massive leap backwards for humanity. All that we have learned and all that we have gained from developing a deeper understanding of people who act, look and sound different from ourselves has been tossed on the bonfire of populist rage.

Donald Trump shows off executive orders he has signed (Getty)
Donald Trump shows off executive orders he has signed (Getty)

It will do nothing to make America safer; it will make the world a more dangerous place. The targeted nations will retaliate. It will drive alienated young people into the arms of the terrorists. Sadly, some people will follow the President's lead and take out their anger on people for no other reason than that they are different.

New Zealand must say no to this poisonous prejudice by doing two things. First, we can demonstrate our humanity and rejection of Trump's policy by increasing the number of refugees we embrace each year to 1500.

Second, our Prime Minister Bill English can honour our tradition of standing up to bullies by publicly condemning Trump's Muslim ban. He wouldn't be sticking his neck out. Plenty of world leaders have already spoken up.

In a world of turmoil when we seem to be going backwards at an alarming speed, New Zealand must stand up and be counted amongst the mature and civilised nations who know the only way forward is tolerance.

Andrew Little is the leader of the Labour Party.