Back in February 2002, Labour prime minister Helen Clark apologised to New Zealanders of Chinese descent for the racism of the poll tax imposed on Chinese migrating to New Zealand from 1881 until the 1930s – it was finally abolished in 1944, but hadn’t been collected for some years before that.
At its peak the poll tax was a hundred pounds – the equivalent of at least several years work (according to the Herald report on the apology, this was the equivalent of ten years work, but this seems an exaggeration as this would mean an income of only four shillings a week).
Clark was offering the apology, so it seemed, on behalf of the government and trying to make up for the record of the governments of the poll-tax era. What she omitted, however, was that the early Labour Party was viciously racist against the Chinese.
Moreover, that early racism hardly ended in 1944. Her own government rushed through legislation to make it harder for Chinese to gain entry and earlier this year tried playing the anti-Chinese card to shore up its poor poll ratings, blaming people with ‘Chinese-sounding surnames’ for the housing shortage and high home prices in Auckland.
Happily, that campaign didn’t win much support