Wellington, September 29, 2021
I have pointed out a few times now my concern over the lack of practical support for multi-language initiatives as we fight Covid-19 so I was pleased to see the Government finally relented and has provided some real funding for ethnic communities to get vaccination and COVID-19 information in a fairer and timely manner.
It is pretty terrible though it has taken them so long when we have been rolling out Covid-19 vaccinations for over half a year and so many from language diverse backgrounds are in essential and frontline roles in our country.
With my office constantly contacted for language support in securing vaccinations, it is clear that the government dropped the ball on the vaccination rollout for ethnic communities and only now trying to rectify its abysmal actions. On top of this, with the lack of comprehensive information for commercial support, wage subsidies, detailed personal and business movement advice at higher alert levels, we are still facing an unacceptable level of discrimination for people from ethnic backgrounds.
The government has countless resources while Opposition Members of Parliament, with a tiny fraction of the staffing capacity and budget, are forced to fight for answers that could easily be provided by the state.
It’s frankly shocking.
Alongside this, the issues of government documentation increasingly using acronyms or multilingual phrases or codeswitching between official languages without context make for an incredibly tough time for those ethnic SME business owners like our local fruit marts, flower shops and bakehouses to know exactly what they are allowed to do or not.
Some have fallen afoul of rules never clearly explained to them during the ongoing outbreak over the last 18 months and that is not acceptable.
Individual Kiwis, even under level 3, are unsure if they can travel inter-suburb to their nearest beach, park or walking trail – a language divide alongside uncertainty in the information deep within the Covid-19 website makes for anxiety amidst real fears of arrest or warnings from Police. All of which could be avoided.
During Levels 3 and 4 countless WeChat, Facebook groups and KakaoTalk platforms sprung up to fill this void and to fill the loss of day to day personal interaction with our fellow human beings. From stories of parents complaining about their child’s virtual music lessons while they tried to work nearby to stories of hardship due to the internal borders preventing workers and families alike from getting on with their lives, these forums hold a unique cultural legacy of the Covid-19 lockdowns.
However, these forums are also rife with rumour, superstition and misinformation due to the lack of clarity of information by the Government. It is simply not good enough when so many of these forums are bespoke to their particular communities, sharing languages and culture among many who are new to the digital world, with some, particularly older inhabitants of our Islands being brand new to the technological toolkits that have kept us connected during Covid-19. My channels can help you navigate the complex issues that the government has self-created, so if you would like to join any of my media channels please get in touch at MPLee@parliament.govt.nz and I will add you to my mailing list or link you with my National Caucus colleagues own media.
For Korean and Chinese communities in New Zealand, I have been personally running digital platforms to help these communities navigate the ongoing issues relating to Covid-19 and wider engagement with Government and Parliamentary Services; other colleagues are doing similar platforms for their communities on a geographical basis as local MPs to reach out and help. I encourage you to join these even if they are run in English to ensure you have a direct line of communications beyond overflowing email inboxes and constantly running office phone lines.
The wider National team is also running group chats in a variety of languages, reach out if you want to join and have your say.
National has now announced our plans for opening New Zealand. They are clear, comprehensive and confident in ensuring Kiwi families can return to New Zealand to see their loved ones again by Christmas. Our plan will ramp up investment, vaccination and engagement so our economy can rebuild and we can return New Zealand to its outward focused and innovative way of being a part of the global community.
Let us celebrate our conversations, our language experiences and all work through this together no matter the deficiencies in the government’s Covid-19 information campaign.
Supporting one another through better information sharing, empathy and community are what will help us all build the resolve to get our economy working again.
I am looking forward to getting out and seeing you all again soon –let us hope that lower alert levels are coming in the next few days!
Melissa Lee is a Member of Parliament on National List and the Party’s Spokesperson for Broadcasting & Media, Digital Economy and Communications and Ethnic Communities.