The New Zealand Government's Apology to Chinese Poll-tax Payers and Their Descendants for Statutory Discrimination

Ms Kirsten Wong
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Between 1881 and 1952, Chinese in New Zealand were subject to a range of discriminatory laws. Foremost of these was the poll-tax, a tax on all Chinese migrants to New Zealand. Initially set at 10 in 1881, it was raised to 100 in 1896. For poll-tax payers and their descendants, the tax came to symbolise an era of severe discrimination. It was not until the 1990s, however, when a rapid increase in Asian migrants fuelled a revival of anti-Asian sentiment, that Chinese community leaders began calling for a Government apology for the poll-tax — a lesson from the past for the future. The apology came in February 2002, and with it an invitation to the descendants of poll-tax payers to suggest an "appropriate gesture of reconciliation". The Government's Office of Ethnic Affairs was tasked with organising the consultation and liaising with the community. This paper covers the Government process and its outcome. It also describes the effect of the apology on the community, the wide range of reactions, and impact the apology and consultation process had on the community's identity and sense of empowerment.

Keywords: Community, Reconciliation, Government process, Social justice
Stream: Globalisation
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: New Zealand Government's Apology to Chinese Poll-tax Payers and Their Descendants for Statutory Discrimination, The

Ms Kirsten Wong

Policy Analyst, Office of Ethnic Affairs Department of Internal Affairs , Department of Internal Affairs
New Zealand

Kirsten Wong is a policy analyst at the Office of Ethnic Affairs, where she worked on the poll-tax reconciliation process. She is a descendant of poll-tax payers and has been active in Chinese community groups for some years. She is particularly interested in identity issues. In 2003 she contributed a chapter to "Unfolding History, Evolving Identity: The Chinese in New Zealand" edited by Manying Ip (Auckland University Press, 2003). The chapter "A Place to Stand: The Chun Family Experience" outlines the early settler Chinese New Zealand experience reflected through one family's story. More recently Kirsten has been involved in a television documentary "New faces, Old Fears" which explored the experience of discrimination against Asian New Zealanders.

Ref: D05P0249