It’s not often that a government appointment ignites major controversy, but last week’s announcement that Dame Susan Devoy was to step into the role of Race Relations Commissioner did just that. The Race Relations Commissioner is one of six commissioners employed by the Human Rights Commission, an independent Crown entity established in 1977 that currently functions under the Human Rights Act 1993. The Commission’s statutory role is to “advocate and promote respect for, and an understanding and appreciation of, human rights in New Zealand society; and to encourage the maintenance and development of harmonious relations between individuals and among the diverse groups in New Zealand society.”1
According to the 2012 Annual Report, the Commission costs $10 million to run and has 61 full time equivalent staff, 13 of whom earn over $100,000, with three full-time commissioners earning over $200,000: Chief Commissioner David Rutherford on $241,000, the former Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres on $212,000, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner Judy McGregor on $211,000.
The new commissioner, who will commence her 5-year term on 1 April 2013, will be expected to promote harmonious race relations in New Zealand. Given that there is no real entrenched racism in this country – largely due to our rapid rate of intermarriage – the question that should have been asked is whether we really need a Race Relations Commissioner or even a Human Rights Commission for that matter.
The outcry from the Treaty grievance industry over the appointment of Dame Susan is an indication of the extent to which the Race Relations Commissioner’s position has been politicised and used as a power base for those pushing radical biculturalism onto the country.
Apart from promoting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, advocating for the foreshore and seabed to be given to Maori, and progressing the Treaty rights agenda, one of the former Commissioner Joris de Bres’ main priorities over the last few years has been to try to force local councils to establish Maori seats – or at least Maori liaison committees. As a result, 49 of the 78 councils he approached considered establishing Maori seats and ratepayers in three local authority areas were forced to demand a referendum to defeat these uncalled-for moves by their councils. In Hamilton, the proposal for Maori seats was opposed by 80 percent of ratepayers, in Nelson by 79 percent, and in Wairoa by 52 percent.
In addition, Mr de Bres has been using the UN to pressure the government into implementing the Waitangi Tribunal’s WAI 262 finding in favour of Maori ownership of all native plants and animals, and he has convinced the UN that “structural discrimination” by government agencies is not only responsible for the overrepresentation of Maori in the criminal justice system, but also for their poor outcomes in welfare, health and education.
In other words, rather than promoting harmony, Joris de Bres has had a toxic influence on race relations in New Zealand by driving a separatist agenda. It is little wonder that the activists were up in arms that an “outsider” was appointed to the position.
In announcing Dame Susan’s appointment on Wednesday, Justice Minister Judith Collins described her as “a proud New Zealander who is highly motivated to contribute positively to New Zealand society”. A former world squash champion, with an extensive background in community work and governance in health, disability and sport, the Minister said, “Her communication and relationship management skills, coupled with experience working with diverse groups, are key areas of strength. Dame Susan has sound governance experience and mature judgement. I am confident she will be a sensible and intelligent voice for race relations issues.”
Predictably, Treaty activists trawled through the archives of Susan Devoy’s columns in the Bay of Plenty Times, to find evidence of her unsuitability. Last year’s column on Waitangi Day was seized upon by Ngapuhi leader David Rankin who claimed she was culturally inappropriate and called on the Minister to find a better replacement. Treaty lawyer and President of the Mana Party Annette Sykes demanded that the Justice Minister sack her on the grounds that she was not fit for the role. Judith Collins responded by saying that that Annette Sykes was “a stupid person” and that she “doesn’t take any notice of anything she says”.
For the record, here is what Dame Susan actually wrote in her much maligned 5 Feb 2012 Waitangi Day column, True NZ day of celebration:
If history repeats itself, the news media will cover very little about Waitangi Day beyond the treaty grounds. And given the recent announcements that the Government may restructure Te Puni Kokiri (the Maori Development Ministry) and are wanting to omit the Treaty of Waitangi clause from new legislation covering partial State asset sales, there is no doubt John Key and his cohorts will receive a hostile reception at Waitangi on Monday.
So what’s new?
Waitangi Day was first celebrated in 1934. Since then it has been the focus of many protests by Maori in recent years. The traditional debate at the meeting house is often disrupted and the flagpole attacked more than once.
Since the 1970s, the style and mood of the commemorations on Waitangi Day have been influenced by the increasing intense debate surrounding the place of the Treaty in modern New Zealand. For those actually interested in the goings-on at Te Tii Marae, Waitangi Day serves as a barometer to measure the Treaty relationship between Maori and the Crown.
The reality is that most New Zealanders either couldn’t care less or are frustrated that what should be a day of national celebration is marred by political shenanigans. Not much different from the political posturing at Ratana the previous week.
The saving grace is at least this year we do get a public holiday. Last year, we all felt cheated that Waitangi Day fell on a weekend and we were denied that.
So for most of us, it is an opportunity for a day at the beach, the good ol’ Kiwi barbie in the summer sun with little reflection on the meaning of the day.
Waitangi has been hijacked and if it can never be really seen as a day of national celebration then perhaps the time has come to choose another true New Zealand day. We only need to look across the Tasman to witness how Australians celebrate their day. The police there say it is bigger than New Year’s Eve but probably for all the wrong reasons. They may be our arch-enemy on the sports field, but you do have to admire the way they celebrate their national day with a great showing of patriotism.
We deserve a day of true celebration and pride. As a relatively young nation, we have so much to be proud of and the opportunity to be part of our own history. We are a nation of many cultures and identities and this is not reflected on February 6. We need a day that doesn’t necessarily replace Waitangi Day but complements it. That doesn’t mean we lose sight of the significance and meaning of the Treaty but an opportunity to recognise that New Zealand is a multicultural society continuing to evolve as a nation of many people and not just Maori and Pakeha.
A recent poll showed more than 70 per cent of New Zealanders were in favour of a new holiday. This would leave Waitangi Day to be the day that recognises the importance of Maori, but the door open for a day that we don’t feel ashamed to be a New Zealander; a day where we don’t only focus on the grievances of the past; a day that is positive and uplifting and, above all else, makes us feel good about ourselves. After all isn’t that the real meaning of holiday?
Those comments are eminently sensible, and as one has come to expect, the comments by Rankin and Sykes rabid and revolutionary.
The real issue here is not whether the government will cave in to the bleatings of radicals over the appointment (they won’t) but whether Susan Devoy will allow herself to become suppressed by those radical factions who will do all they can to ‘break’ her and turn her into their mouthpiece. This will be her greatest challenge.
What this furore has highlighted is the fact that New Zealand desperately needs equal rights champions in official positions – pragmatic leaders who reject politically correct Treaty politics and believe in equal rights, not special treatment based on race. This is especially important at a time when National Party leaders appear to be selling out to sovereignty activists through the Treaty settlement process.
The signing of the Treaty settlement deal with Tuhoe is a case in point. As Mike Butler points out in his blog about Tuhoe history, they are not the poor downtrodden group they like to portray, having already received three multi-million dollar settlements (although if local members of the tribe still feel they are poor and downtrodden then its time they started asking their tribal leaders where all the money has gone!). This latest settlement is the fourth government deal with Tuhoe, and at $170 million it is one of the country’s biggest settlements – ever. The version of history they have officially agreed on has been sanitised almost beyond recognition and is yet another disgraceful example of history being re-written by a vested interest group to suit their political agenda.
The settlement agreed by National pushes the boundaries further than any government has in the past, by ceding to the demands of sovereignty activists and taking a dangerous step towards tribal ‘self-rule’: “The deed also gave Tuhoe the opportunity to take over the delivery of its own social services – a form of self-rule. Mr Kruger hinted that this approach could be extended, with the iwi keen to run its own healthcare and possibly even seek its own income tax system.”2
Quite where this will end up is not clear but there are undoubtedly disturbing implications for the future of race relations and equality under the law.
In addition, this multi-million dollar private tribal corporation has been given a controlling right over the management of the Urewera National Park. In effect this means our biggest public conservation reserve (that was given National Park status in the 1950s for the benefit of all future generations of New Zealanders) will be stripped of its National Park status and public ownership. Using a similar strategy to that used in the repeal of Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed, the park will become legally owned by nobody but jointly controlled by a new management structure made up of equal numbers of appointees from Tuhoe and the Crown. Quite why a private corporation that is driven by self interest should be given the right to manage a key part of our conservation estate in a way that gives them a dominant voting bloc and ultimate control, is an important question that needs answering.
Is this 50:50 governance model a glimpse of the future under our present-day political leadership? Is this where all public assets are heading – control by the iwi elite? Are New Zealanders happy with such a development? Have New Zealanders even been consulted?
And what about private assets? As more public assets are given to tribal corporate interests, attention is turning to private property. Just last week a group of tribal leaders put forward the proposal that the Crown should buy private property to give to tribes as part of their Treaty settlements. Is this where the claims process is heading – towards the seizure of not only public assets, but private assets as well?
What we can say without a shadow of a doubt is that if the Maori Party succeeds in gaining a new Treaty-based constitution for New Zealand, then the answer to all of these questions will be an unqualified ‘Yes’.
This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator is David Round, a law lecturer at Canterbury University and the Chairman of our Independent Constitutional Review Panel (ICRP). His commentary is an article the NZ Herald refused to publish. David wrote it in response to an attack in the Herald by Sir Michael Cullen, the principal Treaty Claims negotiator for Ngati Tuwharetoa and a member of the government’s Constitutional Advisory Panel.
Astonishingly, the natural justice right to allow David to answer the criticisms and put the record straight through an equivalent Herald article was denied and instead he was invited to submit a brief ‘Letter to the Editor’. Quite why his article was not accepted and whether strings were being pulled, is something that we are unlikely to find out, but what it meant was that the public were denied the right to read a response to Michael Cullen’s tainted views.
David starts his article by saying, “New Zealand’s constitution is working perfectly adequately. Nothing is broken; nothing requires fixing.” He points out that the government’s review is political, that the inquiry is designed to produce a pre-determined outcome, that the Panel was racially selected, and that the material that is being used to ‘guide’ public participation is ‘misleading’: “All these things point in one particular direction; and politics is a dirty and treacherous business. Yet Sir Michael Cullen, one of this Panel’s members, insists that the Panel has a completely open mind. Its sole concern is merely to ‘stimulate debate’ and report back to the government. If you believe that, you will believe anything.
“Sir Michael, a seasoned politician, is adept at making soothing noises. But we have often heard these reassurances before. ‘This is only a proposal.’ ‘You’ll have an opportunity to have your say.’ And then, before we know where we are, it is too late. The last thirty years have been characterised by increasingly undemocratic arrogance by both National and Labour governments. This allegedly impartial inquiry looks and sounds like a jack-up, laying the foundations for a disastrous and irrevocable betrayal of the interests of most New Zealanders”. You can read David’s full article, Government’s constitutional review sham, HERE.
The government’s review process is heavily biased in favour of a Treaty rights. No public meetings are being held only private gatherings arranged so the whole process will remain under the radar of public opinion and media scrutiny. Yet the outcome of this review has the potential to forever change the way New Zealand is governed – unless this proposal for a Treaty based constitution is overwhelmingly rejected by the public.
You can put in a submission to the government’s Advisory Panel HERE. You can put in a submission to our Independent Constitutional Review Panel HERE – as a result of this submission process a full report representing your views will be presented by the ICRP to the government at the end of the year.
- Human Rights Act 1993 ↩
- Herald, Tears, $170 million, end long dark journey ↩