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Josie Bullock

Politically Correctness a la The Office of Proceedings

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I first met the Director of the Office of Proceedings for the Human Rights’ Review Tribunal a year ago. Perhaps I should have realised from his title that his organisation would be highly bureaucratic and probably a vast waste of space, time, energy and tax-payers’ dollars. The Human Rights’ Commission offices on Queen Street in Auckland, where we met, were huge with panoramic views, but there was little, if anything, going on there. I had been advised to take my case on the basis of human rights, rather than employment, given that it involved sexism.

To summarise events, in December 2004, while working as a probation officer for the Department of Corrections, I sat at the front at a poroporoaki (Maori farewell) for offenders. (Only men are supposed to sit in the front row.) After a lengthy investigation, I was eventually given an oral warning for my “offensive behaviour”. Being given an oral warning for sticking up for women’s rights stuck in my craw, so I went to the media, and in October 2005, got the sack for doing so.

I had rung the Human Rights’ Commission when I got the oral warning, only to be told by the advisor on their helpline that I should be respectful of Maori culture. Given that response, I didn’t bother contacting them again.

However, when I got suspended in July last year, I was advised that I could go to the Office of Proceedings, which would take the case on my behalf to the Human Rights’ Review Tribunal. The Office of Proceedings is supposed to provide legal help for those cases it believes should be taken to the Tribunal.

At first I was told that the Office of Proceedings would be able to process my application without further ado, but they then advised me that I would have to go through mediation with the Human Rights’ Commission first. Needless to say, that involved more bureaucracy, and with the Department of Corrections dragging the chain, this mediation, which turned out to be a waste of time, didn’t take place until March this year. Then it was back to the Office of Proceedings which spent several months deciding whether or not to take my case.

Finally, at the end of July, having first been interviewed by the Director of the Office of Proceedings, Robert Hesketh, in August last year, I was sent a letter, telling me that no, they wouldn’t be taking my case.

Given the politically correct nature of our bureaucracies now, I wasn’t all that surprised as my case involved criticising the fact that an outmoded Maori practice was being introduced into a government department.

However, it is depressing to know that our institutions of justice have sunk to this level where they are more worried about being politically correct than they are about upholding principles of equality.

Mr Hesketh, the Director of the Office of Proceedings, wrote me a 14-page letter, telling me why they wouldn’t be taking the case. You’d think that it would have been quicker to prepare the case than to write such a long-winded letter.

One of the reasons for not taking my case was a lack of time. (Amazingly, Mr Hesketh did have time to spend a week at the end of July at the Asia-Pacific conference.)

Another reason was that my case didn’t involve “profound harm”, in the way of violence or abuse. (One would think that such matters would be dealt with by the police.)

A further reason was that there were lots of other cases which the Office of Proceedings was taking on which were much more important than mine.

Unfortunately, Mr Hesketh wasn’t able to tell me what these cases were due to “privacy reasons”. He did direct me to the Human Rights’ Commission’s website where you can look at the annual reports. Looking at the annual reports for the last five years, one of which I couldn’t open, these are the only cases taken on by the Office of Proceedings which were listed.

1) A woman with a moko who was asked to leave a pub which had a sign outside saying “No Facial Tattoos”.

2) A man who took a job which involved working on Saturdays, but who, for religious reasons, didn’t want to work on Saturdays.

3) A couple with a disabled child who were told by a daycare centre that the centre would only take the child for a limited number of hours per day.

4) A dispute over whether or not airlines should have to provide free oxygen to passengers with health problems.

5) A sexual harassment case, where a woman had had an affair with a man at work, had ended it, but was still being hassled by him.

Frankly, I was struck by the pifflingness of these cases. The Office of Proceedings felt they were important enough to detail in annual reports, yet my case was apparently so piffling that it wasn’t even worthy of being taken up. Let’s face it, such cases as those above are politically correct, which is probably why they could be safely taken on by the Office of Proceedings. They daren’t rock the boat, dare they?

So, I will have to take the case to the Tribunal myself. I’ve wasted a lot of time running up blind alleys, trying to get the help I believe I’m entitled to.

I hate to think of the wasted tax dollars that go into organisations such as the Office of Proceedings, which do way more harm than good by being politically correct instead of upholding human rights.