"It's becoming a script of Bollywood - we definitely know who the heroine is, all the smiles; Jacinda Adern. We've got a clear villain, Bill "Rock" English. But we haven't got a hero. Who is the hero? We are missing a hero."
Getting the laughs, was an Indian member of the audience compares the current general election campaign to a Bollywood drama. The event is a forum held at the Johnsonville Community Centre in Wellington, and organized by EKTA - a not for profit, non-partisan Indian Community organization.
As the seven candidates representing every party are challenged by ethnic communities in Ohariu-Wilton electorate the Indian man makes this pertinent observation; "The hero is the nation - New Zealand. Who is the villain? All of our social ills."
The elections on Sunday 23 September will determine who will represent us for the next three years, but what do our candidates know about our ethnic communities? What are the key issues facing migrants and refugees and what is going to be done about the most pressing of these issues: immigration, the housing crisis, pathways to funding and the gender and ethnic pay gap?
New migrants often feel the sting of being accused of creating problems in the country - a sentiment heightened during elections.
"We're going to keep this debate clean" says chair Manisa Morar as she keeps TOP candidate Jessica Hammond Doube in line after she's had a dig at Andy Foster, NZ First candidate for Wellington central for playing the "race card."
The two key players scrapping over Ohariu's electorate are Greg O'Connor, Labour and Brett Hudson, National.
"I can understand why they feel as they do," says Brett Hudson. "They're feeling like the conversation is making them somehow perpetrators of ills in this country when they're clearly not. We need migrants to build the country's skills. The last thing we should be doing is accusing migrants of somehow creating issues in the country. They're creating opportunities, not issues."
Labour's Greg O'Connor says it's about individuals.
"We've seen loud politicians playing the race card and the immigrant card. We've got to be very careful that it's about individuals. Each individual adds to this country. The moment they become citizens - they have the same rights as everyone else. The best thing we can do is around integration."
Sarb Johal is a clinical psychologist, associate professor of disaster psychology at Massey University and the list candidate for Labour. He has first-hand experience of life as a new migrant to New Zealand. He grew up in the UK and his father was a Sikh who had to cut off his hair and beard when he couldn't get a job there.
Johal acknowledges that immigration does put pressure on infrastructure but says that it is not the fault of the immigrants.
"We need to think carefully about the under-investment of infrastructure and how we correct that. It's not the migrants issue, it's all of New Zealand's issue."
What did other parties have to say about immigration?
Andy Foster, NZ First: "We're seeing immigration putting a lot of pressure on infrastructure and particularly housing. That's not the migrants' fault. That's the government's fault. Clearly we know [housing] is a mess. We've got people sleeping in cars. That's not good enough. It's too little too late."
Tane Woodley, The Greens: "Immigration is very valuable to New Zealand. Not just the economic value, it's more than money. It's about enriching New Zealand."
Jessica Hammond Doube, TOP: "We'd like to have a conversation about population size, where New Zealand wants to get to eventually. We're opened minded; whether we want a dense population or whether we value our wide open spaces. We don't have numbers on immigration. With our democracy reset that's one of the things we'd like to do. We want to focus on the skills in New Zealand."
Pay inequality for ethnic women
On 1 September Statistics New Zealand announced that the gender pay gap was 9.4 percent. The gender pay gap has reduced since 1998 (16.3 percent).
Greg O'Connor says a Labour government would implement legislation to address the problem. "[We have to address] those low paying jobs working incredibly hard and bringing up families. If you ignore that, that is just accentuating the gap. We support legislation that looks after the pay of those that are doing incredibly important work."
"None of us want to see someone paid less because of their ethnicity or their gender," says Nichola Willis, National's central candidate. "It's against the law. [The government] is taking steps to make sure people are being paid fairly."
Indian New Zealander Vanisa Dhiru, and vice president of the National Council of Women made it personal for the candidates:
Dhiru says the latest segregated data showed that ethnic women were still only getting 77 cents in the dollar compared with Pakeha men.
"The disparities are particularly for Pacifika women, Maori women and women from our Asian diaspora."
Lack of government funding
At Multicultural New Zealand's recent annual general meeting the key problems affecting ethnic, migrant and refugee communities were identified as lack of sustainable funding and structural discrimination.
Groups such as Multicultural New Zealand (MCNZ) rely on volunteers and need funding to exist.
Lack of funding caused the NZ Newcomers Network to shut down in 2016 and the Christchurch Migrant Centre closed its doors this year.
"We need an adequate government allocation of funds for community organisations working with ethnic, migrant and refugee communities, to pay us on a multi-year basis for basic operating costs," says Tayo Agunlejika, executive director of MCNZ.
Ethnic communities are under-represented in the management and governance of public services and public services are not well-equipped for serving communities equally, says Agunlejika.
"This is evidence of what has been called structural discrimination. Although there is recognition of this in parts of the public service, little is being done to achieve the changes necessary to equip our public services for a diverse society where people of different ethnicities and cultures have different needs and different modes of communication."
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