Our immigration policies are a sad joke, with a new record of 130,000 arrivals in the year to March. During the same period there were about 48,000 departures, giving a net gain of some 80,000 people. And since many of the leavers will undoubtedly return in due course, we are in effect accommodating a new Dunedin-sized city every year. (The March arrivals alone, at 6,100, amount to a medium-sized town).
There has never been any useful debate about this - about the desirability of such an unprecedented influx, or whether, even on the narrowest of economic terms, it delivers any benefit. The Green Party, notwithstanding the environmental insanity of unrestricted immigration, now raises no objections, and within our mainstream media, where an addled devotion to diversity trumps all else, serious discussion is unwelcome. Anyone attempting to ask awkward questions is immediately branded a racist.
It is no surprise, therefore, that the Immigration Service now finds itself under attack on account of its recent effort to categorize the most burdensome of the approximately 11,000 people who reside in this country illegally - the people, for example, who clog our Courts, sponge off our welfare systems, and occupy hospital beds to which they are not entitled. Any aid to the identification of such parasites, one might have thought, would be useful, since otherwise their removal - in the standard drawn-out scheme of things - might take as much as ten years.
The difficulty, of course, is that an initiative like this, to be any use at all, must inevitably touch upon questions of race and ethnicity - matters so potentially incendiary to our right-thinking elite as to be better left alone. Complete ignorance, in such cases, is much preferable to the possibility of learning anything uncomfortable.
Facts, however, continue to obtrude, and it is indisputably a fact - as Prof. Paul Spoonley of Massey University has confirmed - that more than 60% of New Zealand’s overstayer population comes from just two small countries: Tonga and Samoa.
This is significant finding, but what, if anything, should we do about it in the context of our immigration? Should we be a little wary of Tongans and Samoans? Should we, on the basis of their documented tendencies to flout our laws, vet them a little more carefully?
Logic and prudence would suggest so - but any such an idea, of course, would be anathema to those stainless souls who discern racism in every corner, and for whom no hint of discrimination is ever acceptable, no matter how soundly it may be based, for to do so would be racist.
The Immigration people, needless to say, are going to be slaughtered. They have been accused of “racial profiling” by the usual heroes of the media, and the Green Party, predictably, claims their actions are in breach of the law. (Which they may well be, under the multinational rules we have been so foolish to adopt).
Once upon a time, in the halcyon past, we were a sovereign nation. We controlled, to a now unimaginable extent, the destiny of our own country. We owned strategic assets and deployed them for the common good, and no-one thought it unreasonable that our immigration policy should be based upon criteria that we ourselves decided. (One Minister, many years ago, ejected a Belgian millionaire who, arriving by yacht in Marlborough, had settled in and built a house without the standard formalities. He was a “millionaire”, the Minister said, and millionaires, unlike plumbers, teachers, and policemen were not on the schedule of wanted immigrants). The millionaire had to go.
Those bracing days are long gone, and the laws have been redrafted. And now we are bound by international edicts that limit our right to decide who may share our country, and who we are able to deport. The consequences are everywhere apparent - illegal immigrants who squat for years, raising families on the public purse, and challenging (with legal aid) our authority to send them home.
These free-loaders are clearly a burden - some of them more than others. But we are handicapped in dealing with them for fear of seeming racist. Indeed it is becoming impossible to consider racial or ethnic data in any analysis of crime rates, welfare dependency, child abuse, and social trends in general - because this, to the enlightened, liberal mind, is a first step to racial profiling, and, however useful the information might be, and whatever evils it might expose, it would be preferable not to know.
Hence the current umbrage at the Immigration Service. How dare these government employees attempt to investigate or categorize the army of parasites at present encamped in our country - and, armed with this information, deport the worst risks first? Why should we want to know that Samoans and Tongans predominate among the ranks of the illegals? Could anything be more racist?
In their eagerness to appear virtuous the liberal elite must remain immune to reality. Theirs’ is a utopian vision, colour-blind and culture-blind, and permanently in thrall to a dizzy dream where the victims of history will be restored and compensated, and the empyrean brotherhood of man will, here in New Zealand, if nowhere else, come to fruition at last.
It is an old, old story, endlessly resurrected by fresh generations of the uninformed, and endlessly discredited - at repeated grievous cost. Cultures are not always compatible. Some of them, for example, chop people’s hands off for petty theft, and their heads off for more serious matters such as selling alcohol or drugs. Some tolerate slavery and infanticide, and subject their young women to genital mutilation, or kill them for adultery. Should we welcome immigrants from such cultures in the furtherance and celebration of humanity’s endless variety?
The European experience provides some sobering lessons. Millions of so-called refugees have been allowed to settle in the old post-Christian cities of Europe. But the euphoric dreams and happy projections of the idealists have, so far, not materialized. Diversity - contrary to all liberal theory - has not produced nirvana. Instead we have a continent in crisis, with spiraling crime-rates, high-street thuggery, anti-Semitism, endemic terrorism, and the countervailing emergence of a new, right-wing extremism. Multiculturalism, that once bright rainbow vision, has become a cascading disaster, as even Angela Merkel has finally been forced to admit.
These are crucial matters which ought to be freely debated if we consider ourselves a democracy. But they have never been debated, and now, with immigration a political no-go zone, and the media a chorus of the terminally-correct, public dissent is all but impossible. Orwell, as always, was prophetic. Prevailing dogmas, once embedded as ultimate truth, mean that free speech eventually becomes hate speech.
But the vital questions still remain. Is bigger always better, in terms of population - or should we not be discussing how many people we want in this small, vulnerable country - how many might be compatible with maintaining our way of life? We claim attachment to a clean, green New Zealand, yet now our finest places are taken over by an increasing plague of tourists. The water in our rivers is undrinkable, our farms for sale to all-comers, and the bacterial expansion of our cities is officially of no concern.
And what about that fragile bloom - our culture? Is there anything valuable or unique in this - anything worth preserving and carrying into the future? Or is culture too a provisional thing, to be casually swamped by other cultures, and thus turned into something else?
And if we are too timid to discuss such things do we deserve our place in New Zealand?
Dave Witherow, who is a long time columnist with the Otago Daily Times, emigrated to New Zealand from Northern Ireland in 1971. He's an author, script writer, and worked as a scientist for Fish and Game.