Speech – Race Relations Commissioner
It is my great honour to welcome you all to the tenth New Zealand Diversity Forum.Diversity Forum Opening Speech
Dame Susan Devoy
Race Relation Commissioner
Canterbury University, Christchurch
24 August 2014
Kai Tahu Iwi
Te Waipounamu Whanui
Tena koutou katoa
It is my great honour to welcome you all to the tenth New Zealand Diversity Forum.
There are some special acknowledgements I need to make:
• Te Maire Tau (Kai Tahu)
• Her Worship the Mayor Lianne Dalziel
• Honourable Nicky Wagner
• Police Commissioner Mike Bush
• Our special guest from Australia Priscilla Brice and Community Leaders and Change Makers from across the country and all of those presenting workshops who share the vision of an inclusive NZ.
Our sincere thanks and gratitude to our sponsors whose support has helped make the Diversity Forum 2014 a reality.
Kia ora to the University of Canterbury for sponsoring our venue and to the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO for once again investing in our young people and sponsoring our Youth Forum
Our other sponsors who made today possible also need to be acknowledged:
Christchurch City Council; AIA Insurance; Bank of New Zealand; MBIE and of course, our longstanding friends at the New Zealand Police.
Your generosity and your support for Diversity has enabled us to come together this weekend to debate, discuss and share in the challenges and opportunities that the changing face of New Zealand brings us all.
Young people are critical when it comes to enduring peace and I hear there’s been some awesome work done in the past couple of days by young Kiwis taking part in our Youth Forum. Many are here today, we’re really pleased to have you with us.
We are particularly grateful to Kai Tahu for your welcome and your presence with us today. History shows us that so often we find out how strong we are in our most darkest times. And no other city in this country knows this better than Christchurch.
The gritty determination demonstrated in the past three years by the people of this city is both inspiring and humbling.
With the greatest respect I would like to take our minds back to just one of those examples.
In the weeks following February 22nd 2011, families descended upon a makeshift morgue in Christchurch. They came here from the Philippines, Japan, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Israel, Taiwan, Ireland, Turkey, South Korea and of course from across New Zealand. And in the unfolding tragedy the Kai Tahu tribe did something incredibly important. Kai Tahu did something that even now few of us know about because they didn’t send out a press release or a media advisory. As is the custom, the tikanga of Kai Tahu: they stayed with the dead until the last person was returned home. For weeks on end, twenty four hours a day – Kai Tahu people remained at the temporary morgue with the dead, they did not leave them to lie on their own.
And in doing so, the people of Kai Tahu acknowledged that these were much more than just earthquake victims. They were more than just bodies: They were people.
People who had names. People who had families. People who had mana.
So thank you to the people of Kai Tahu. Thank you for your aroha. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your humanity.
I cannot think of a more powerful demonstration of manaakitanga than uplifting and looking after the dignity of others. It is a reminder that first and foremost: Manaakitanga is about mana.
Nga mihi nui kia koutou katoa, Kai Tahu Tangata.
Ten years ago after anti semitic attacks on graves at Wellington’s Jewish cemetery our interfaith and ethnic communities stood united against intolerance and hate.
The NZ Diversity Action Programme was born, facilitated by the Human Rights Commission and with support across Government and from many communities.
Ten years on in 2014, I’m disappointed to report that some New Zealanders are still taking part in hate attacks on Jewish Kiwis. These are not unlike previous hate attacks on Muslim Kiwis.
If Kiwis want peace in other countries – then Kiwis need to start by building peace in our own country. While we mourn tragic conflicts overseas – we must honour their lives by standing up for peace at all costs. Yes, the Human Rights Commission will defend the rights of New Zealanders to protest. But we will also defend the right of every New Zealander to practise their faith, free from fear. To be able to attend services at their mosque, synagogue or temple free from hate attacks. This is a basic and fundamental human right.
Human rights don’t just exist thousands of miles away.
Human rights begin at home, right here where we live.
And they are rights we are all responsible for.
As you will know there has been a lot of commentary about race relations recently. The racial slurs aren’t worth repeating. Politicians making fun of an entire race of people, sadly isn’t new but it’s disappointing and shameful our politicians are still doing it in 2014. But I know New Zealanders are better than that.
We’ve come a long way as a nation in terms of treating each other with respect but what’s clear is some of us still have a long way to go.
One third generation Chinese Kiwi said recently:
Why should my children have to put up with people making fun of their name? Making fun of their race? I really thought they wouldn’t have to go through what I did. But I was wrong.
As Race Relations Commissioner my role is to “promote and protect human rights for all people in Aotearoa New Zealand and foster harmonious relations”. In other words, I’m responsible for encouraging everyone to treat each other with respect, dignity and mana: irrespective of their race, ethnicity or religion.
Everyone also means politicians because they aren’t just everyday New Zealanders, neither are they comedians or entertainers. Politicians are change makers, statesmen, stateswomen and role models who have the honour of representing us in our parliament.
I see it as my job to urge all politicians to act with a bit of dignity: to leave bigotry, racial jibes and racial opportunism at the door. To treat Muslim, Chinese, Maori, Iraqi, Indian New Zealanders with respect, dignity and mana: irrespective of their race, ethnicity or religion.
Ethnic minorities are sick of being told to get a sense of humour or ironically to “lighten up” when someone makes fun of them: when the insult is made by a Politician and linked to an election campaign the ‘joke” takes on a more sinister, menacing nature.
Nelson Mandela opened the World Conference Against Racism in 2001 where member states agreed that politicians and political parties play a fundamental role in humanity’s battle against racism. The conference urged politicians to refrain from public statements that encourage intolerance and racism because history has shown that people follow the example of their political leaders.
When I call out politicians I don’t expect them to immediately apologise. But I do expect everyday Kiwis to listen to what’s going on, to debate the issues and decide for themselves what is acceptable.
We value the freedoms that come with democracy, all of us have the right to speak freely and voice our opinions however freedom comes with responsibility.
Migrant and Refugee Employment is our theme this year and it’s an important one facing not just Christchurch but all New Zealand.
Whether we like it or not some of our sectors are undergoing a skill shortage and we need skilled people to want to come and live here.
How we treat our migrants and refugees – whether it’s with respect and dignity and mana – that part’s up to us.
Software developer and Egyptian New Zealander Mena Bassily recently lifted the lid on his own instance of racism by a fellow traveller on a flight from Auckland to Wellington.
I would like to quote Mena:
The woman stared at me. “What’s in the bag? Is it a bomb?
Great not only I don’t get a window seat but I have to sit next to an Arab.”
Mena says, It took me a few seconds to realise that, yes, this is happening. I was being racially profiled and stereotyped.
I’d like to thank Mena for being brave enough to go to the media and put the spotlight on everyday racism, perpetrated by everyday New Zealanders.
Because everyday New Zealanders are the only ones who can get rid of everyday racism in New Zealand.
Intolerance isn’t something people are born with.
Initiatives like the Diversity Action Programme, Islam Awareness Week, Maori Language Week and Holocaust Remembrance Day all help to educate and enlighten everyday New Zealanders.
Understanding and appreciating that people from ethnic minorities also helped build New Zealand is another thing New Zealanders need to start to realise.
The first Chinese people arrived before the Treaty was signed, the first Muslim and Indian Kiwis were working and living here 140-years ago. When they arrived they worked. This legacy of migrants to this country has not changed. My own father celebrated his first birthday on a ship heading for New Zealand. Just like all migrants his family left Ireland for a better life and a brighter future. Our family worked hard, my grandmother was a cleaner at Government House, we grew up in a state house.
Migrants work hard from the moment they arrive in New Zealand and work hard to fit into mainstream New Zealand: but mainstream New Zealand needs to do some work as well. At the very least migrants need to be given a fair go – a fair playing ground not one that’s skewed by prejudice.
Cultural diversity makes a nation and a people stronger: not weaker.
That’s why diversity isn’t just important for migrant New Zealanders: diversity is important for all New Zealanders.
We can’t leave it up to chance or to luck: we are all responsible for race relations in New Zealand.
Last week at the launch of Islam Awareness Week, our former Governor General Anand Satyanand talked about the Capital’s iconic statue of Mahatma Ghandi. The small, determined figure of one of the world’s greatest proponents for peace stands in one of Wellingtons most windswept spots. This statue is the perfect metaphor for one of his most well known sayings about race relations, tolerance and peace.
Mahatma Ghandi said:
I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed.
I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible.
But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.
I think while we’ve come a long way when it comes to race relations in New Zealand: it’s also clear to me we’ve got a long way to go until all New Zealanders are treated with respect, dignity and mana.
We still have a lot of work to do.
Tena koutou tena koutou tena koutou katoa.