Multicultural New Zealand this month celebrated its 25th anniversary with the publication of a history book.
Starting as the New Zealand Federation of Ethnic Councils in 1989 with Councils in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Lower Hutt and Christchurch, the organisation has grown to represent 19 regional multicultural councils and national councils for business, seniors, women, and youth.
An initial proposal to the Government in 1982 to establish a New Zealand Ethnic Affairs Council similar to that established in Australia was dismissed by then Immigration Minister Aussie Malcolm as something for which he had “limited enthusiasm”.
Three years later Auckland City Councillor Jolyon Firth, chairing a Licencing Authority hearing for an Indian Restaurant in Ponsonby, caused a furore when he called Indians “curry munchers” and “short changers”. Unwittingly Firth re-ignited the desire for an organisation to give migrants a collective voice, and the first ethnic affairs council was formed in Wellington with the support of Race Relations Conciliator Hiwi Tauroa. An Auckland Council soon followed.
In a foreword to the history, former Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres describes the formation of the Federation as “a prophetic response” to the massive demographic changes of the 1990s, becoming “an effective national advocate for the establishment of an Office of Ethnic Affairs within government, for increased settlement support for migrants, and harmonious relations between all ethnic groups.”
Current national president Alexis LewGor reflects in an afterword that “cultural differences are the spice of life and provide us the ability to grow and learn. We continue to work towards a multicultural New Zealand and harmonious relations for a better New Zealand for our children.”
Multicultural New Zealand: a 25-year journey documents the organisation’s history through the annual assessments of its presidents and profiles of its regional councils. It is a fascinating document of record of the first quarter century of a unique multicultural organisation providing a collective voice and meeting point for ethnic, migrant and refugee communities in New Zealand. The 180-page book is edited by Jumoke Giwa and published by Steele Roberts Aotearoa. The book is available online here.