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Indian IT professionals in New Zealand


Courtesy: Sunit Prakash & Lalita Kasanji


India is a global IT powerhouse, and we know its tech professionals have contributed to developed nations since at least the 1970s. New Zealand too has been a beneficiary of this immense talent, and from the development of its earliest systems and infrastructure, through to the current fibre rollout, Indian IT professionals have played a significant role.


Our investigations revealed very little by way of documentation or acknowledge­ment and the purpose of this chapter is to tell their stories and correct this omission in a small way.

Drawing on conversations with twelve of the earliest IT professionals to arrive from India in the 1980s and early ’90s, we showcase their contribution, highlight seven common themes, make two key recommendations to benefit New Zealand further, and identify several areas to build on these stories.


Background


Early Indian immigration to New Zealand


Economic changes driven by British presence in India in the 1800s forced the men to seek better prospects. Indian seamen who had come to New Zealand returned home with news of opportunities in the country and the first migrants started arriving. Starting off as scrub cutters, roadbuilders and farm labourers, with sheer hard work, enterprise and community assistance, they soon started their own fruit and vegetable businesses (Kasanji 1982).


The macroeconomic situation in New Zealand at the arrival of the initial cohort of Indian IT professionals


To understand the contribution Indian IT professionals made, it is critical to understand what New Zealand was going through at the time.


New Zealand had lost its guaranteed export market when Britain joined the European Economic Union in 1973. The oil crisis also began, and welfare costs doubled on account of the introduction of the Domestic Purposes Benefit (1973), Accident Compensation Commission (1974), and the revision of the National Superannuation scheme (1977).


In 1975, the National Party came into power. To keep the economy afloat and combat rising inflation and unemployment, Prime Minister Robert Muldoon introduced a price freeze, and put restrictions on wages and foreign currency. Import tariffs continued and subsidies were introduced to protect local agriculture. Resentment of the state’s size and degree of control over people’s lives eventually created a mood for change.


The David Lange-led Labour government took power following a snap election in 1984 and profoundly transformed the country’s economic landscape. The introduction of radical market reforms and social policy were dubbed ‘Rogernomics’, after controversial Finance Minister Roger Douglas.


Labour’s introduction of the State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) Act (1986) overhauled New Zealand’s state sector. Government departments were corpora­tised and restructured to become efficient and profitable. The New Zealand Post Office, a prime target of these reforms, was replaced by three SOEs — New Zealand Post, Telecom and PostBank. The latter two eventually sold into private hands.


The government abolished many economic controls, removed farm subsidies, radically reformed the centrally organised welfare system and in 1986 introduced the Goods and Service Tax (GST). As the state sector shrank, unemployment rose, the stock market crashed in 1987 though the Labour government continued its free-market policies. The pace of reforms was unsustainable, and David Lange resigned in 1989. The National Party came into power in 1990 inheriting a very different New Zealand.




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