Dame Susan Devoy: Racism shames Kiwis

AMY MAAS
Last updated 05:00 29/04/2013
Susan Devoy
LAWRENCE SMITH/Fairfax NZ
New Zealand's new Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy makes her keynote speech at the Ethnic People's Advisory Panel at AUT.

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In her first major speech since controversially being appointed race relations commissioner, Dame Susan Devoy says most New Zealanders are embarrassed at the racism that exists here.

She also said racism was not discussed as openly as it should be.

"I think it's a long time since we brought this issue really out to the forefront and how important it is and it's going to play a huge part in our country's future."

Devoy's comments on racist attitudes in this country follow weeks of criticism of her appointment, which was announced by the Government last month.

She came under fire for newspaper columns she penned in the past on wearing the burqa and on Waitangi Day. Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell questioned her appointment and Mana Party president Annette Sykes said Devoy had limited understanding of the Treaty of Waitangi and should stand down.

Devoy's speech yesterday was to an Ethnic People's Advisory Panel conference hosted by Auckland Council.

In her speech, she addressed a racist pamphlet drop in Christchurch last week which targeted the Jewish and Chinese communities and said the country had "serious racial issues".

"It is clear that there is racism in New Zealand and at the same time it was clear that most New Zealanders would and should be embarrassed and ashamed to be thought of as a racist country," she said.

She added that the issue was an example of where the commission needed to "act promptly to stamp out [racism]".

"What I certainly responded to was if I was Chinese or Jewish then I would feel considerably appalled and hurt by that and that's what we need to act on under the statute."

Her speech came after TV viewers voted 76 per cent to 24 per cent in favour of the idea that New Zealand is a racist country in the second episode of debate programme The Vote, which screened on TV3.

In her speech yesterday, Devoy said her job was to counter racism to promote positive responses to cultural diversity.

"And by that I mean recognise and celebrate the cultural diversity of our society, promote equal enjoyment by everyone regardless of their political, economic, social and rights regardless of their race, ethnicity, colour or national origin and give effect to the Treaty of Waitangi."

She skirted around the controversy surrounding her appointment and said the criticism had been unfair, but valuable, showing people cared about human rights.

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"It shows that many people want what you here today want - a tolerant, inclusive city and society," she said in her speech.

"If there is a wider and early lesson about my appointment I'd hope it shows it's important not to pre-judge people."

- Sunday Star Times

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