Wellington, September 29, 2021
I have stressed several times now my concern about the lack of practical support for multilingual initiatives as we fight Covid-19 so I was happy to see the government eventually gave in and provided real funding to ethnic communities to get vaccination and information on COVID-19 in a more fair and timely manner.
It’s pretty terrible, even though it took them so long as we have been rolling out Covid-19 vaccinations for over six months and so many people from diverse linguistic backgrounds are in critical and frontline roles in our country.
With my office constantly contacted for language support in securing immunizations, it’s clear the government has dropped the ball on rolling out immunization for ethnic communities and is only now trying to rectify its abysmal actions. On top of that, with the lack of comprehensive information on trade support, wage subsidies, detailed advice on personal and business movements at higher alert levels, we still face an unacceptable level of discrimination for people of ethnic origin.
The government has countless resources at its disposal while opposition MPs, with a tiny fraction of the staffing capacity and the budget, are forced to fight for answers that could easily be provided by the state.
It is frankly shocking.
At the same time, questions of government documentation increasingly using acronyms or multilingual expressions or code switching between official languages without context make it an incredibly difficult time for ethnic SME owners like our local fruit markets, flower shops and bakeries to know exactly what they are allowed to do and not do.
Some broke rules that were never clearly explained to them during the current epidemic in the last 18 months and this is not acceptable.
Individual Kiwis, even below level 3, don’t know if they can travel between suburbs to the nearest beach, park, or walking trail – a language divide alongside the uncertainty in information at Heart of the Covid-19 website creates anxiety amid actual fears of arrest or police warnings. All of this could be avoided.
During Levels 3 and 4, countless WeChat groups, Facebook groups and KakaoTalk platforms have sprung up to fill this void and fill the loss of daily personal interaction with our fellow human beings. From stories of parents complaining about their child’s virtual music lessons as they tried to work nearby, to stories of hardship due to internal borders preventing workers and families from continuing with their lives, these forums hold a unique cultural legacy of the world. Covid-19 blockages.
However, these forums are also teeming with rumors, superstitions and misinformation due to the lack of clarity of information on the part of the government. This is just not enough when so many of these forums are personalized for their particular communities, sharing languages and culture among many new to the digital world, some, especially the older inhabitants of our islands, being brand new in tech toolboxes that allowed us to stay connected during Covid-19. My Channels can help you navigate the complex issues the government has self-created, so if you would like to join any of my media channels, please contact us at [email protected] and I will add you to my mailing list or put you in touch with the media of my colleagues in the national caucus.
For the Korean and Chinese communities in New Zealand, I have personally managed digital platforms to help these communities navigate ongoing issues related to Covid-19 and broader engagement with government and parliamentary departments; other colleagues are creating similar platforms for their communities on a geographic basis as local MPs to reach out and help. I encourage you to join them even though they are managed in English to ensure you have a direct line of communication beyond overflowing email inboxes and office phone lines at all times.
The extended national team also hosts group discussions in a variety of languages, please contact us if you would like to join us and have your say.
National has now announced our plans to open New Zealand. They are clear, comprehensive and confident to ensure that Kiwi families can return to New Zealand to see their loved ones again by Christmas. Our plan will increase investment, immunization and commitment so that our economy can rebuild itself and we can bring New Zealand back to its innovative and outward looking way of being part of the global community.
Let’s celebrate our conversations, our language experiences and all work together, regardless of the gaps in the government’s Covid-19 information campaign.
Supporting each other through better sharing of information, empathy and community is what will help us all strengthen the resolve to get our economy back on track.
I can’t wait to go out and see you again soon. Hopefully alert levels will drop in the next few days!
Melissa Lee is a Member of Parliament on the National List and the party spokesperson for Broadcasting and Media, Digital Economy and Communications, and Ethnic Communities.
Telephone: (09) 520 0538; E-mail: [email protected] Website: www.melissalee.national.org.nz