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Devoy as Race Relations Commissioner?! (revised)

22 March 2013 4 comments

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Susan Devoy, commenting on her appointment as our new Race Relations Commissioner,  said,

“There is no denying that this is a huge challenge in my life. I’m under no illusions how difficult it might be but maybe I didn’t realise how difficult it might be starting.”

Acknowledgement: Fairfax – Squashed in court of public opinion

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Dame Susan first woman in race post

Acknowledgement: NZ Herald – Dame Susan first woman in race post

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That has to be one of the  two worst Under-statements of the Year. (The other being John Key’s now infamous line that Hekia Parata was one of  National’s “smoothest communicators”. See:  Parata safe in her job – Key)

Ms Devoy’s appointment  has been heavily  criticised, mostly along the lines that she had zero experience in any field even remotely approaching race relations.  And some of her comments in the column she used to write for the  Bay of Plenty Times probably didn’t help much.

Comments like this,

“We deserve a day of true celebration and pride. We need a day that doesn’t necessarily replace Waitangi Day but complements it . . . 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.”

Acknowledgement: Fairfax – Squashed in court of public opinion

Oh… so Maori can have Waitangi Day? That’s big of her.

No wonder that Annette Sykes condemned her appointment.

Judith Collins – famous for promising to crush all resistance (or was that Boy Racers’ cars?) – gave a measured, thoughtful, and insightful response to Ms Sykes. Collins called Sykes “stupid”. Wow, that rapier-sharp wit of Collins…

I must admit, when I first heard of Ms Devoy’s appointment, that I raised an eye-brow. I’m not totally familiar with her background, but from what I  knew, she seemed to have no social, practical,  or academic experiences that might give her insights into race relations.

Simply claiming to have “common sense” is not sufficient. What might be “common sense” for one individual might be offensive to someone else.

For example, referring to  “political shenanigans” on Waitangi Day, last year.

Ms Devoy and others of a like-mind might believe that was a straight forward, “common sense”,  assessment of events at Waitangi. It was not. It was inflammatory

On the other side of the coin, those who express themselves at Waitangi are doing so from a long history of broken promises; land theft; destruction of their culture; and a Treaty – signed between Maori and the Queen’s representatives here in New Zealand – that for well over a century had been observed more in the breach than reality – and then forgotten altogether.

If we’d been defeated in WW2 and colonised by a victorious Axis power, I think we would begin to understand how Maori felt.

Furthermore, when Ms Devoy said on 21 March,

“One of my strengths is that I’m pretty forthright and not afraid to have an opinion, but at the same time I have a very strong moral compass and I have a desire to do the right thing.”

Acknowledgement: NZ Herald – Dame Susan first woman in race post

– that really raised alarm bells with me. Her job is not to express “forthright… opinions” nor to “have a very strong moral compass”.   She is not there to tell people what to do nor to impress her “very strong moral compass” on others. If she doesn’t get to grips with that, the next few years will be a rough ride for Ms Devoy and others around her.

Judith Collins responded to criticisms of Ms Devoy’s comments by saying, that her opinions were hers alone, and she would be able to divorce them from her professional appointment,

Mrs Collins said the comments were made before Dame Susan became commissioner, and she would not be as free to express her personal views in her new role.

She added: “The Far Left does not have a monopoly on caring about race relations and Dame Susan Devoy is a very sensible and balanced person.

“We’re allowed in this country to have views that have not been politically sanitised and what’s wrong with that?”

Acknowledgement: NZ Herald – Minister defends Dame Susan Devoy’s new role

It’s not very reassuring when Minister Collins asserts that Ms Devoy, “would not be as free to express her personal views in her new role”. The underlying message is that Ms Devoy’s personal viewsare somehow  unpalatable and inimical to the role of  Race Relations Commissioner.

Worse still is when Collins says,

“We’re allowed in this country to have views that have not been politically sanitised and what’s wrong with that?”

Is the Minister suggesting that  Race Relations Commissioners in the past have had “ views that have … been politically sanitised”?

I would suggest that there is a vast gulf of difference between “ politically sanitised ”  and “ politically sensitive “. Unfortunately, National ministers seem not to know the difference.

And really, if Collins is serious about appointing people whose views have not been “ politically sanitised ” – perhaps she could hire the leader of a local White Supremicist group to the role? There’d be nothing sanitary about the political views of a white supremacist racist.

Whatever  inspired Collins to make this appointment, I believe, will come back and haunt National. Perhaps not this year. Maybe next year.

Does John Key really need another political fire to deal with? One would have thought that Hekia Parata and her Bigger Classroom Sizes foul-up would have been sufficient warning how events can rapidly spiral out of control?

Unless Ms Devoy has some hidden talent for this most-complex of jobs – her appointment will be like a quietly ticking political time-bomb.

Personally, I bear no animosity toward Ms Devoy and certainly harbour no desire to see her fail. With New Zealand being such a multi-cultural society, the office of the Race Relations Commissioner is important – this is where frictions can be quickly addressed and parties brought together to talk over differences.

I hope Ms Devoy succeeds.

But I can still hear a quiet ticking in the background.

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