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NZ Identity Today: Who The Bloody Hell Are We? ​

16 August 2021, Wellington Club


Diplosphere held a panel discussion, NZ Identity Today: Who the Bloody Hell Are We? on August 16th in Wellington, with; Dame Susan Devoy, Race Relations Commissioner 2015-2019, Nathan Hoturoa Gray, Lawyer, Author, Adventure Traveller, Andrea Vance, Senior Journalist, Stuff, Naisi Chen, Member of Parliament, Labour Party, Golriz Ghahraman, Member of Parliament, Green Party, Kirk Hope, CEO, Business NZ, chaired by Maty Nikkhou-O’Brien, Executive Director, Diplosphere.


The discussion featured an array of expert opinions sharing their understanding of New Zealand’s identity, its evolution, and how this impacts New Zealand’s engagement on the international stage. 


While these opinions may diverge; key ideas and analysis were communicated, as summarised below:



Dame Susan Devoy

Race Relations Commissioner 2015-2019


  • New Zealand is rated a peaceful country, according to the Global Peace Index—despite the exclusion of child abuse or domestic violence rates. 


  • New Zealand is a multicultural nation, with over 200 ethnicities—such wealth of ethnic diversity sets it apart from other nations.


  • Our perception as a Pacific state, once strongly disputed, is now a reality—estimates conclude that more than half of New Zealand’s population by 2050 will be of Māori, Pacific or Asian descent. 


  • We are at a crossroads as history reflects a still evident problem. Minorities continue to face racism: encountering derogatory behaviour and racial profiling—such injustice is reflected in the prison population.


  • We need to find a consensus to move forward, not merely agree to disagree.


  • It is time for action for future generations, by acknowledging mistakes, the treaty, and taking responsibility—the shared responsibility individually to create a brighter future. 


Nathan Hoturoa Gray (Kai Tahu, Rangitāne ki Manawatū, Waikato Tainui whangai) 

Lawyer, Author


  • Aotearoa is no longer a forgotten island colony on the brink of civilisation, rather it is a peaceful state set amongst an increasingly fragile world.


  • Nathan’s Māori and Pakeha heritage meant Nathan felt it was his role to bridge the gap between these two cultures. 


  • Māori culture’s dispersal of its unique understanding of spiritual authenticity amongst other cultural elements makes New Zealand special. 


  • New Zealand’s affirmation of indigenous rights is an example to others globally. It’s advised to be built upon as New Zealand maintains its responsibility to ensure the promises of Tino Rangatiratanga—from Te Tiriti o Waitangi.


  • Use kiwi’s unique voices, strengths and moral standings to have a say in how New Zealand further advances its national identity.


  • Kiwi’s may abandon New Zealand, but New Zealand will never abandon kiwis in return.

  • The world has no choice but to come together—no easy feat. New Zealand can lead the way by showing inclusion, love, and what binds a nation’s spirit. It all comes down to each person’s contribution, together. 


Andrea Vance 

Senior Journalist, Stuff


  • Multiculturalism once made New Zealand special, predominantly through our global connections fostered by our expats, celebrations, O.E’s and various diasporas. 


  • A protectionist ethos has developed through the concept of “Fortress New Zealand”, solidifying in the comment section of immigration articles—a cesspool of discontent which determines immigration and migrant workers as incurring unnecessary risks. 


  • New Zealand’s treatment of those born or living overseas, during the pandemic, has been terrible—worrying as a migrant herself.


  • Healing the rift between kiwis and those overseas is advised, side-lined by their communities—then New Zealand can ask itself where it wants to be in the world. 


  • Closed borders have framed issues purely as a privilege, disregarding separated families, sick people dying alone, and those unable to attend tangihanga and funerals. 

  • To understand our place in the world, New Zealand is advised to examine how it sees itself as a multicultural society when in times of crisis, strong immigration sentiments easily bubble to the surface.


  • Before considering business, New Zealand is advised to look inwards when determining what it wants to be, rather than looking to Asia, Europe or the Pacific. 


Naisi Chen

Member of Parliament, Labour Party


  • Naisi Chen—who, at the age of five, arrived in New Zealand from Beijing—made her maiden speech as a Labour MP on the topic of New Zealand identity.


  • Her upbringing embraced Chinese culture and values, including language, food, television and respect for elders. 


  • Upon studying Law at the University of Auckland, Naisi learnt about Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its bicultural story. 


  • During Naisi’s time as a tertiary student representative for Chinese students, Dame Susan Devoy encouraged her not to suppress her Chinese side, but to speak up for those that also share Chinese heritage. 


  • In politics, her two worlds—Chinese and New Zealand culture—came together. Following an accusation of espionage, it sparked a realisation of the need for reconciliation of these two sides in her life. 


  • Naisi advised that New Zealand can define its common values while celebrating its individual cultures—it’s not simply New Zealand culture, but asking who we are as individuals. 


  • It is vital to amplify the voice of minorities while coming together as a nation. 


  • New Zealand is advised to be a nation of dreamers—not shackled by history or social classes, but free. 


Golriz Ghahraman 

Member of Parliament, Green Party


  • Golriz became the first refugee elected to New Zealand’s parliament, which sparked a realisation of her place in the world, and her job as a member of parliament concerned with human rights. 


  • Golriz was aware of atrocities from a young age, having experienced the hijacking of democracy and the hardship of women in Iran. Upon arrival in New Zealand, she became truly aware of her rights. 


  • A fear of tokenism following acclaim for her successes was diminished by messages from around the world, and New Zealand. While there was love, there was also the presence of hatred—perceived as Muslim and a terrorist. Golriz realised the importance of representation, and that her successes had not been founded upon tokenism.   


  • The Christchurch massacre addressed the need to confront terrorism, white supremacy, and the current system. 


  • The advocacy of love that New Zealand showed following the massacre needs to be weaved into the system of the entire nation.


Kirk Hope

CEO, Business NZ


  • New Zealand has changed since the establishment of its mythology, such as being the strong silent type, individualists, tough, blokes, rugby, and beer—which has defined New Zealand in the 20th century.


  • A near-global analysis of different cultural dimensions, including an analysis of power distance—the extent to which less powerful members of organizations accept and expect unequal power distributions—took place in an attempt to help businesses operate effectively. 


  • This analysis offered insight into New Zealand’s cultural dimensions, noting its psyche as individualistic and self-reliant—in which it scores comparatively very high. 


  • When comparing power distance, New Zealand garnered a low score—suggesting a lack of interest in hierarchies and a dislike towards inequality. 


  • The analysis concluded that New Zealand preferred maintaining established traditions, which speaks to Māori culture’s cherishing of tradition—an important part of New Zealand’s culture. 


  • Ultimately, it influences our economic direction and trading prospects—offering insight into how to effectively engage with trading partners and allies.


  • New Zealand has retained numerous unique characteristics, however, such characteristics can inform it on how to improve, and advance its place in the world. 

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