9 August 2021

Following the publication of my last blog post (MIQ Should Be Run By the Airlines) I have received many comments. Some are positive of the idea, some are not and others are about the wider problems of New Zealand’s closed border. I welcome them all because it furthers the debate. Among them was this very thoughtful piece. The author, who wishes to remain anonymous, has agreed to let me publish it as a guest post.

We Are Not A Team of 5 Million

The primary concern of the Westphalian state is to secure itself. The traditional view of this involves securing borders; maintaining sovereignty over our physical space and defending those who inhabit it. Over time, this approach has been justifiably challenged.

It’s not uncommon now for security to be discussed in more meaningful terms. For example, the borders may be secure from foreign threat – a state may even enjoy riches in GDP and international prestige – but what does this count for if its people are unwell, unhappy or unhoused? It was on these grounds that the Labour government introduced the ‘Wellbeing Budget’. Whatever your political interpretation, security is about people.

There are around 1 million New Zealanders living outside of Aotearoa. Many work for the New Zealand Government abroad, or for noble causes like the United Nations or a myriad of international or non-governmental organisations. Some moved overseas for love, others for education or experience. Kiwis abroad are not disloyal, and they are not disconnected from us. Studies have consistently shown that those in the diaspora pay dividends for their home countries through diversified networks, richer professional acumen and mutually-enhanced cultural understanding. They connect us with the world.

There are also a range of complex and personal considerations which may keep New Zealanders from returning home – from family, financial, professional or educational obligations, to leases, contracts, or a sense of duty during times of emergency. Speaking as one of those stuck overseas please take it from me that, regardless of the reason, all will feel a profound longing for home.

New Zealand is not a team of 5 million. New Zealand is a team of 6 million.

Rhetoric around a team of 5 million implies that the object of security is geographical New Zealand, as opposed to New Zealanders. It has created an ‘us and them’ mentality where Kiwis can simultaneously tut at nationalistic policies abroad while refusing to acknowledge the wall built around their own interests. The government’s responsibility is to its people – all its people.

We are all connected; kotahitanga, whakapapa, whanautanga and kaitiakitanga. The price of the situation at the border isn’t just economic, or even humanitarian – it’s our principles. We can choose to ‘be kind’ to some, but not all. We can choose to shut the gates to the village and leave our children and siblings outside. We can choose not to risk the many for the few. Most outside would understand this. But when but the government on our behalf chooses to make space for the rich, for profit-seekers, sportspeople and others to entertain us (Larry Page, 401 Dubai Expo attendees, Wallabies, the Wiggles, to name a few) we have declared what our priorities are, and what they are not.

Perhaps it is rash to presume the government is espousing compassion but pursuing profit with its management of the border. In that case, there is a fine line between caution and cowardice, just as there is between bravery and stupidity. But history teaches us that the outcomes of each are seldom a matter of deliberation, but principle.

One day the border will open and, like the rest of the world, we will have to learn to live with this virus. We will also have to live with the memory of how we treated each other.