Tuesday 6 September 2011


The Head of Maori Studies at Auckland, Professor Margaret Mutu, called this weekend for restrictions on immigration of people of European ancestry:
A Maori academic says immigration by whites should be restricted because they pose a threat to race relations due to their "white supremacist" attitudes. The controversial comments come in response to a Department of Labour report, obtained exclusively by the Sunday Star-Times, which found Maori are more likely to express anti-immigration sentiment than Pakeha or any other ethnic group. Margaret Mutu, head of Auckland University's department of Maori studies, agreed with the findings and called on the government to restrict the number of white migrants arriving from countries such as South Africa, England and the United States as they brought attitudes destructive to Maori. "They do bring with them, as much as they deny it, an attitude of white supremacy, and that is fostered by the country," she said.
The survey results are no particular surprise, at least as far as ethnic differences go:

Maori were the least likely to consider New Zealand a welcoming place and the most likely to want less migration. Maori were the most likely to disagree with positive statements about immigration and most likely to agree with negative statements. These results are backed up by other studies which have reported less positive attitudes towards migrants and immigration by Maori. The negative statement that Maori are most likely to agree with is Migrants take jobs away from other New Zealanders with almost half of Maori (45 percent) agreeing with this. This is higher than those agreeing with the statements around immigration being a threat to New Zealand’s culture, suggesting that the reasons for the more negative views of Maori have an economic basis. This is likely to be because migrants are seen as a threat in the job market, particularly during a recession.  

The ethnic differences correspond with what I've found in the New Zealand Election Survey. Here are some results from the 2008 NZES. Note that the researchers oversampled Maori and youth; results presented here haven't corrected for the oversampling. But as we're mostly interested in whether immigration sentiment has an ethnic correlate, the oversampling ought only increase the precision of the estimate unless the oversample draws disproportionately from segments more heavily anti-immigrant.

A few cross-tabs results.

The NZES asks whether New Zealand ought to increase or decrease the number of immigrants (zimmig). Among those providing a response (excluding the roughly 5% of both groups that say "don't know"), the median person not claiming New Zealand Maori background says immigration levels ought to remain the same; the median respondent claiming New Zealand Maori background says immigration ought to be reduced "A little". But look at the difference in the cross tabs here:

Increase or decrease immigrants
Not Maori
Increase a lot
Increase a little
Reduce a little
Reduce a lot

The results really don't change much if you use different ethnicity measures.

On the whole, there's not much support for increasing immigration, which is pretty disappointing. Maybe this is driven by the 2008 survey's having been conducted at the time of the global financial crisis. But, the figures from the 2005 survey, at the height of an economic boom with a massively overheated labour market, aren't a lot different. Among non-Maori, support for reduced immigration drops from a total of 46% (2008) to 40% (2005). But 48% of Maori respondents in that 2005 survey replied "Reduce a lot", with another 25% saying "Reduce a little". So, during a boom time, Maori opposition to immigration was higher than it is now. A couple quick regressions on the 2008 data suggest the ethnic divide remains very strong after controlling for ideology, urban/rural status, income, education, age, employment status, owning your own home, household finances as compared to a year ago, having children, and a few other things. 

So that there's a rather strong ethnic divide on immigration desirability seems reasonably robust.

Now, the 2008 survey doesn't ask the question, but the 2005 survey does: "Is immigration good for the economy?" The Department of Labour survey suggests concern about economic effects of immigration as driving ethnic differences. The raw data suggests the same in the NZES (2005). Among those not claiming Maori descent, over 60% agreed or strongly agreed that immigration is good for the economy. Among those claiming Maori descent, only 35% did. But if we look at correlates of policy views in the 2005 dataset, and include a whole whack of control variables I'm not going to bother mentioning (huge kitchen sink), the coefficient on Maori ethnicity is only cut by roughly twenty percent if you control for views on whether immigration helps or hurts the economy. So Maori anti-immigrant sentiment isn't just driven by differences in views of how the economy works.

And so it's odd then to see calls for Margaret Mutu's resignation
"As a Maori, I welcome white immigrants," [Ngapuhi leader David] Rankin said. "They are the ones most likely to bring employment opportunities for our communities, and we don't see the sort of racism Margaret refers to."
Rankin said Mutu has no place working at a university.
"I think Auckland University are scared of her," he said. "And so they lack the courage to deal with her, but I think after this episode, they will be having another look at her position and the harm she is bringing to Auckland University."
Rankin said Mutu was a "champagne radical" who turned up to a foreshore and seabed hikoi in her "Armani suit".
"What she doesn't realise is she's actually pulling Maoridom apart - she's an absolute trouble maker."
Rankin said he didn't think Mutu believed a word she said and would probably "hide behind" a section in the Education Act that affords her the right to speak as the "critical consciousness of society".  
Mutu's controversial comments came in response to a Department of Labour report which found Maori are more likely to express anti-immigration sentiment than Pakeha or any other ethnic group.
I'm totally with Rankin on the desirability of immigration. But Mutu's views are hardly idiosyncratic among Maori, at least as far as the NZES data suggests. 

And I get worried when employment protection accorded academics when acting in a critic and conscience role is called "hiding behind" a section of the Education Act. Especially since much of what appears on this blog enjoys that status.


  1. Illuminating article, and I really appreciate your neutral tone. There is something that always bothers me about people's reaction to studies that outline a group's attitude. Most people need to understand that it is pointless to express indignation, or judge the morality of the opinion shared by a group of people. If the opinion is borne out of economic disenfranchisement, and if we want to change the opinion, fix the root of the problem. Do not moralize.

  2. "But Mutu's views are hardly idiosyncratic among Maori, at least as far as the NZES data suggests."

    I'm not sure you can extrapolate from the NZES data that Maori believe that white immigrants bring an attitude of white supremacy, which seems to be the portion of her commentary that is most controversial.

    Of course it is a stitch up by the SST, once they got the report I imagine they ran straight off to see Mutu and gleefully awaited her comments.

  3. I'll have to agree with Duncan above: opposing immigration and the racial hatred expressed by Mutu (assuming she's quoted correctly) are two different sports. I'm fine with employment protection for academics who express crass opinions - arguably that's the only good reason to have tenure - but that doesn't mean such opinions are beyond criticism.

  4. @Susmeet: Controlling for income, job outlook, employment status, education - none of those do much to bridge the gap between Maori and non-Maori on the desirability of immigration, at least in the NZES data. Controlling for beliefs about the economic effects of immigration reduces the gap by about a fifth. So I'm not sure that the evidence is consistent with economic disenfranchisement. If I had to guess, it has more to do with general views about land theft and the treaty process.

    I try for neutral tone on such things. Keeps me out of trouble. Here's the data; make of it what you will. Fun anecdote though: the only time I ever encountered a Kiwi telling me to get the hell back to my own country, the full quote ran something like "I'm New Zealand Maori. You don't belong here. Go the hell back to your own country." Only has happened once in eight years though. And only when I politely enquired why he was doing power turns on our snow-covered, construction-closed street while we were sledding down the driveway with the kids.

    @Duncan: It's not inconsistent with NZES, but you're definitely right that we can't attribute reasons for immigration beliefs from the NZES, or at least I've not seen how to do it as yet. More work could tease some of it out - probably controlling for beliefs on treaty process and such. But they don't ask questions like "Do you think white immigrants are generally racists?"

    @Lemmus: The one leads to the other, but there are many paths to the other. And I'd certainly be happy to critique Mutu's belief that white immigrants are white supremacists. I'd not use that critique to call for her sacking though.

  5. Funnily enough I've faced strong negative reactions more often than Eric (I have a darker skin and am more immigrant-looking than him), but never from Maori. They tend to come from low socio-economic status white people, which coincides with the experience of some of my colleagues.

    @Lemmus I do disagree with Mutu's opinions but, at least in the newspaper note, I do not consider them "racial hatred". Clearly Mutu's expressions are not beyond criticism, but calling for her resignation seems to me over the top.

  6. @Luis: Anecdote has it that those worst treated are Asian immigrants, and by exactly the group you're citing.

    Can't we put in a tax on "Being bogan [nz term equivalent to redneck]"? The negative externalities there seem large.

  7. I think the neutral tone just disappeared in the last comment!

    And, of course, there is little or no evidence of economic benefits to NZers from the high levels of immigration to NZ in the last 20 years (or, as the Productivity Commission in Aus concluded, of gains to Australians from the immigration to Australia).

  8. too liberal by far dudes, sack this Mut she has no place in our education system, replace by imported white person

  9. @Michael: It's not necessarily wrong to oppose immigration; I can think of a couple of non-crazy arguments that are respectable. But folks who berate immigrants in the street for their country of birth are vile.