Fair Borders? Migration policy in the twenty-first century, edited by David Hall (Bridget Williams Books, 2017), 240 pp., $14; Sea Change: Climate politics and New Zealand by Bronwyn Hayward (Bridget Williams Books, 2017), 120 pp., $14; Island Time: New Zealand’s Pacific futures by Damon Salesa (Bridget Williams Books, 2017), 256 pp., $14.99
The Texts series by Bridget Williams Books has come to occupy a distinctive place on the New Zealand publishing scene, putting out a steady stream of short, timely interventions on a wide range of social and political topics. The hallmark of these ‘short books on big subjects’ is their accessibility, both in terms of the price point and of the clear instruction to the authors to present their ideas to a broad, non-specialist public. In this review I consider three recent titles that exemplify the aims of the series and the vision of publisher Tom Rennie.
Fair Borders? is a short but very sharp collection of essays on the present and future of migration policy. Editor David Hall asked eight authors from a range of domains to explore related issues under the framework of fairness: not just for current citizens and residents of Aotearoa New Zealand, but also for those who wish to come here or who may be excluded from doing so.
What the contributions highlight above all is that nothing about migration is straightforward or simple, just as the distribution of its effects is unequal. Employers and the economy as a whole stand to benefit, but the people already pushed to the margins of our society may suffer, as do the property rights of Māori under the pressure to build more infrastructure, more quickly. Seemingly exploitative instruments like short-term visas are shown to be very effective as a form of foreign aid, while apparently sympathetic categories such as ‘climate refugee’ are critiqued. Perhaps most provocative of all, an idea that is currently considered so radical as to be practically unthinkable – the wholesale adoption of open borders – is shown to have the potential to instantly double the size of the world economy, forcing us to ask: what’s the rationale for not doing it?
This is a book about policy but the writing is seldom dry. Notably, the impassioned and philosophically nuanced contribution by Murdoch Stephens – the force behind the ongoing campaign to double the country’s refugee quota – whets our appetite for the book-length treatment he has just released with BWB, while Evelyn Marsters’ subtle personal essay tracks the formation of her Pacific identity as she has grown and travelled (she currently lives in Berlin). The overall stand-out, however, is Tahu Kukutai and Arama Rata’s ‘From Mainstream to Manaaki’, which musters a careful and compelling case for indigenising our approach to immigration. Having noted that the Treaty of Waitangi was the country’s first immigration policy, the authors sketch a brief history of migration and population flows from a Māori perspective, showing how modern migrants are invariably expected to integrate within a Eurocentric mainstream. What they advocate instead is a new model based on manaakitanga (defined as ‘the process of showing and receiving care, respect, kindness and hospitality’) as the key both to a fairer immigration policy and to the full realisation of the partnership between tangata whenua and tangata tauiwi as set out in the Treaty.
Fair Borders? was published in the lead-up to last year’s election and offered a stark contrast with the impoverished terms of the debate on immigration during the campaign. Had it come out a few weeks earlier, Brownyn Hayward’s Sea Change might have served the same function in relation to climate politics – a topic that, in spite of Jacinda Ardern’s claim that it is ‘this generation’s nuclear-free moment’, was absent from the prime-time leaders’ debates.
An associate professor of political science and international relations, Hayward is one of the lead authors of the United Nations’ IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C. As such, she is uniquely qualified not only to argue for the urgency of the challenge that faces humanity, but also to fully contextualise it, explaining its multiple and converging socio-political effects.
As in the discussion of immigration, here too we are confronted above all with an unequal distribution of outcomes and with the realisation that, as the author puts it, ‘we are not in this together’: there are nations and communities that feel the effects of climate change more sharply than others and are less equipped to mitigate them. These are also the nations and communities that have historically produced the least emissions and are less to blame for the crises they now face.
This first half of the book is the most effective and reminded me of Mike Joy’s Polluted Inheritance, another BWB title that one could carry around in one’s satchel and produce should the need to argue for the urgency of cleaning our rivers arise, as it lays out the terms of the problem with admirable brevity and clarity.
In the second half, Hayward moves on to argue for the kinds of democratic engagement that we should foster to produce political solutions to the challenges of climate change. This is a model of ecological citizenship grounded on participation and deliberation that moves from the particular – local ways of living and working – to the general. By the author’s ready admission, raising a generation of citizens steeped in this approach may seem too slow a process to counter the always accelerating momentum of climate change. However, this is not my reservation. Rather, I feel that there is a mismatch between how far Hayward is prepared to take her analysis of the causes of New Zealand’s very poor record on climate change, and the solutions proposed. Elements of our economy such as intensive dairy farming, which rely on exploiting the nation’s natural resources as if their supply were limitless, aren’t merely symptoms of a democratic deficit but are intrinsic to the capitalist development of New Zealand and to capitalism more generally. The nation’s economic resources are tightly locked into this system and the task of unlocking them may require more than just greater deliberation or an army of more conscious citizens – it may require confronting power and breaking the system open.
Timely, instructive and useful, Damon Salesa’s Island Time is a fitting place to end this brief survey. We have now moved among the Pacific people of New Zealand – and of the Pacific at New Zealand’s door – only to encounter again the same issues canvassed thus far: inequality of wealth and opportunity on the one hand, and the irreducible force and vitality of culture on the other.
Island Time is a forward-looking history. Its central contention is that the future of New Zealand is Pacific, and furthermore that this future has already happened. The key example offered by Salesa is that one in four children born in Auckland is of Pacific descent, which prefigures a change in the adult population yet to come but already well in train. However, the vectors of change described in the book are as much cultural and social as they are demographic.
The theme of the book is the creativity of Pacific responses to great and growing challenges, and Salesa manages to convey hope even when giving the measure of apparently insurmountable states of disadvantage. Even so, it’s in these analytical descriptions that Island Time excels, mapping a Pacific archipelago within the mainland of New Zealand yet separated from it by deep socioeconomic rifts.
The chapter on racial segregation in Auckland is especially eloquent in its portrayal of a ‘Pacific city within the city’, in which deprivation reaches extreme levels, and whose neighbourhoods and schools Pākehā Aucklanders will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars or travel miles every day to avoid. The discussion of the twin issues of housing and education is especially sharp here, and people interested in the current review of the Tomorrow’s Schools model would do well to read Salesa’s critique. The metaphor of the city’s ‘lost viewshafts’ is also very compelling. Satirising the demand by wealthier Aucklanders that their views of the sea not be impaired by new housing developments, Salesa observes that in the segregated city it is the viewshafts between rich and poor and across ethnicities that have been lost. The danger for Pākehā, writes Salesa, is ‘that they don’t live in the great future city of Auckland, where Asians, Pacific peoples and Māori will form the majority of citizens, but instead inhabit one that has formed, in a very real sense, in reaction to this future city’.
By illuminating issues that are central to public life yet also poorly served by quality of the mainstream political debate, the authors of these BWB Texts are also in the business of restoring lost viewshafts or creating new ones. Their work deserves a wide readership and continuing support.
GIOVANNI TISO is an Italian writer and translator based in Wellington. He is a contributing editor to the Australian literary journal Overland.
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