New Zealand First may have an “uphill battle” in gaining the support of Filipino immigrants and Catholics after Minister for Regional Economic Development Shane Jones’ hurtful remarks against Filipino Catholics early this month.
Mr Jones said that he has had “a gutsful of the New Zealand farming industry bringing Filipino workers in exclusively”.
Mr Jones made the comment at the launching of Te Ara Mahi, a regional skills and employment programme focused on Māori and Pasifika people. The programme was launched in Kaikohe on February 3.
Mr Jones was quoted by secular media, Stuff, as saying “we are not going to rely exclusively on our Filipino Catholic immigrants. We are going to do the b . . . y work
ourselves”, also noting that the Catholic Church has done well financially from the
influx of these migrants.
When asked by NZ Catholic to explain those remarks, Mr Jones said he “meant no
disrespect to either Filipino people or the Catholic Church”.
“I was simply expressing my frustration at the continuing need to import workers, when many local people of all backgrounds are dependent on the state, but capable of work,” he said.
“That’s why we were launching Te Ara Mahi, the event at which I was speaking. It aims to ensure those receiving benefits and [who] are at risk of long-term unemployment, but who are capable of working, have the skills to find jobs and hold them,” he added.
But Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn said Mr Jones should be more aware of others when making such comments.
“I can appreciate the frustration felt by the Minister and his desire to help long-term unemployed to find work. I wish him every success with the Te Ara Mahi initiative.
“But he does need to be aware that comments that can sound witty or humorous to one group may also be deeply hurtful to others,” Bishop Dunn said.
“I suspect that New Zealand First may face an uphill battle in trying to win support
from Filipino immigrants or Catholic constituents, which is a real pity because we all want to help the unemployed to find work,” he added.
Bishop Dunn, as NZCBC president and Auckland bishop, wrote to Mr Jones’ office
pointing out the offence taken by Filipino migrants and by others.
The bishop wrote that “our hope is that here in New Zealand all citizens will be treated with the respect they deserve and will try to maintain our homeland as a place of justice, solidarity and hospitality”.
The Human Rights Commission also reminded public officials to be mindful of what they say. An HRC spokesperson told NZ Catholic that statements such as those made by Mr Jones can have a “stigmatising effect”.
“When politicians make public statements that single out certain ethnic or religious groups to make a political point, it can have a stigmatising effect. This is especially true if those statements are directed at new migrant communities who may lack a strong political voice and so may feel unable to respond,” the spokesperson said.
“It’s important that public officials are mindful of the impact that their words can have on migrant communities. We would encourage them to take inclusive approaches that avoids stigmatising language, particularly language that may perpetuate perceived racial and cultural stereotypes,” the spokesperson added.
The HRC said New Zealand is one of the most ethnically diverse nations on earth,
with more than 200 ethnic communities.
“This is a source of strength, but it also means we have to make an effort to maintain
harmonious relationships between people,” the spokesperson said.
Some leaders in the Filipino community warned Mr Jones’ party against singling out a particular group. One of them said that Mr Jones’ comments only underscored the good work Filipino workers do in the dairy farming and silviculture industries.
St Patrick’s Cathedral’s assistant priest Fr Sherwin Lapaan, who is Filipino, called Mr Jones’ statements “insulting rhetorics”.
“We know the truth and we know we contribute immensely to the New Zealand society through our sweat and blood,” he said.
“Let us not be affected by it, rather be inspired to rise above the rhetorics of politics. Yes, we are Filipinos and many of us are Catholics. There is nothing wrong with that.”
While not exactly apologising, Mr Jones said, “I respect Filipino people for taking the opportunities available in New Zealand and know their work supports key industries,
dairying among them.”