A snaking line of humanity that NZ can be proud of

What kind of New Zealand might we see in 20 years? Well I saw a snaking line recently and rather than having a nightmarish premonition, I was filled with hope

I saw a human snake crawling its way across a stage in this past week and it could have been anywhere in the world. It was the glimpse of New Zealand's future and raised questions about how New Zealand might looked in 20 years. And you know what? It filled me with hope.

I was at the Meadowbank Primary School's prizegiving and as child after child joined the lines for their class awards, an image from Duncan Garner's controversial DomPost column in October came to mine. That of a line of supposed immigrants taking up valuable space in our infrastructure-poor country.

Garner copped plenty of flak for the imagery and language he used, plus the assumptions he made on the basis of the skin colour of the people he saw waiting in line. But his underlying argument is a vital one for New Zealand to debate after years of running an immigration policy that had people arriving at twice the rate of what New Zealand has long considered normal (two percent growth, rather than one percent).

We have not built in preparation for the population we now have and we still lack a clear idea about what might be the Goldilocks population for New Zealand over the next 20 years and what has to be built and how much spent to reach a satisfactory balance. 

I hope the government has officials working on those questions now, and either getting straight answers or a very good reason why we can't settle (as the Greens suggested in the election campaign) on some sensible numbers. Bad planning could indeed have "nightmarish" results, as Garner warned.

Rapid growth in immigration has been an economic buzz for the economy. That's hardly surprising give how tightly population growth and GDP growth are tied together. But it leaves us with an infrastructure hangover that we will be struggling with for another decade at least. Perhaps more, depending on what this government is prepared to borrow.

The blame for that lies mostly with the past two governments (and a higher proportion of that with National, given how increasingly obvious the trend and its effects became over time). It's not the immigrants' fault. But it was reasonable for Garner to point out that we are not obliged to take anyone, especially if our ability to cope is stretched.

So my observation is not a crack at Garner, who is one of the hardest working journalists around and has a great body of work. Rather it's an acknowledgement that rapid immigration has benefits as well. It's an investment as well as a cost.

You see, while Auckland was curiously ranked last year as the world's fourth most diverse city, Meadowbank, in Auckland's centre-east, is not exactly typical of that. Yet here in a pretty white bread suburb, you couldn't miss the range of names being called on stage to be celebrated for excellence or being most improved.

The surnames: Nguyen, Chang, Gupta, Van Rij, Bessina, Tomei, Lilomaiava, Oriola, Rafiee, Raykova, Lu... and on and on it went. 

Now any number of these talented children may have been here four months, four years or their failies may have been here four generations. Or more. For all I know, it was the Lamberts or the Smiths who were the newsest arrivals on stage. But the sheer range of cultural backgrounds all being celebrated for hard work and success was a delight. Their beaming faces, certificates in hand, was a good reminder for me at least that, if we can build fast and strong, the growth of New Zealand's population is a good thing. 

We want a bigger domestic market, we want a wider range of ideas and viewpoints to tackle the problems our country faces, and we want these smart children showing their skills in maths, the creative arts, science and sport to be part of our country's future in 20 years. We now have the duty, having allowed them in, to move quickly to ensure they belong and have the infrastructure to live productive, happy lives. 

Like Garner said, let's not "stuff it up".

As far as it goes, it's not a particularly clever observation. Just some kids at one prizegiving who illustrate our diversity. But it made my week.

And it reminded me that many new migrants queueing at K-Mart have children who might just have much more clever observations to make in their lives. This remarkably diverse line of kids snaking across the school stage, chuffed to bits and full of promise, was a little shot of hope. One I wanted to share just shy of Christmas.

We really do live in a great little country.