Move on Race Relations Commissioner discriminatory

The Government’s intention to change the independence and the post of Race Relations Commissioner is both short sighted and unnecessary.

The Human Rights Amendment Bill 2011 proposes to eliminate the title to the generic name of Human Rights Commissioner and subject it to delegation by the Chief Human Rights Commissioner.

The position of Race Relations Commissioner (previously Race Relations Conciliator) has been in existence since 1972.

New Zealand was the first country to establish this position when it signed the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Our ethnic communities have identified closely with this Office, which has constantly advocated for racial harmony as well as taken up landmark cases of discrimination on the grounds of race, colour and ethnic origin.

It was the Race Relations Conciliator who established Ethnic Councils throughout New Zealand for promoting harmony and understanding.

Currently New Zealand has two specialist officials, namely Race Relations Commissioner and Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner.

Australian equation

Australia has a Human Rights Commission and maintains dedicated Commissioners including a Race Discrimination Commissioner. As in New Zealand, the role has special significance in the multi-ethnic Australian context.

Both countries have important indigenous issues and interests, significant immigration and developing a society in which all ethnic groups can participate fully and on an equal basis without discrimination and prejudice.

Diversity challenges

New Zealand faces challenges in adapting to the ethnic diversity that is growing rapidly. Germany, Britain and France have experienced significant race relations upheavals recently, much of which was the result of ill-conceived and poorly administrated diversification programmes.

These countries should do more to embrace the diversifying world in the 21st Century. Societies like ours need to reach a common understanding and appreciation of diversification and the advantages it brings in a globalised world.

That work requires a dedicated team within the Human Rights Commission led by a clearly identified Race Relations Commissioner who is held in high regard by our citizens.

Maintain status quo

This is the situation with the current arrangements and should be maintained.

No convincing case is made for this change in the Amendment Bill.

There is talk of efficiencies and inflexibility but that is disputed.

In any case, there can be no objection to making the Commission more effective; but this is a wholesale change that will take away the vitality of the Commission in which people have reposed confidence.

Is it designed to give the Chief Commissioner more control over the specialist Commissioners? Is this necessary?

Currently, the Commissioners are members of the Board of the Human Rights Commission and act collectively. By all accounts, that works well.

Some regional Ethnic Councils have indicated that they will not support the change. I am sure that the Ethnic Advisory Board of the Auckland Council will have difficulty with this move.

It is hard to fathom how the Federation of Ethnic Councils, Multicultural Societies, and ethnic leaders would be comfortable with the proposals.

We need to ask the government a number of questions about the need for this amendment. How does it reflect the contemporary challenges in a diversifying New Zealand? Are there other ways of solving some of the organisation challenges faced by the Human Rights Commission? Why is the government getting rid of a highly respected ‘brand’ that has served New Zealand well since 1972?

If it is about efficiency, what kind of saving is the government asking the Human Rights Commission to make?

Dr Rajen Prasad is Member of Parliament on Labour List and the Party’s Ethnic Affairs spokesman. The above article is exclusive to Indian Newslink.

Our Staff Reporter adds:

The Auckland Council’s Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel has objected to the government’s move to abolish the title of Race Relations Commissioner.

The Panel’s media spokesperson Asoka Basnayake said that abolishing the title would minimise the impact that racism and discrimination have on the country’s progress as a multicultural society.

“The removal of a named title will further marginalise and make invisible those communities affected by the consequences of racism and discrimination. In fact, the Ethnic Panel advocates revision of the mandate of the Race Relations Office so that complaints of racism and discrimination are more readily investigated and that the criteria for evaluating and determining complaints do not favour, the perpetrator of racist and discriminatory practices,” she said, speaking on behalf of Rev Amail Habib, acting chair of the Panel.

Read related reports under Homelink and Viewlink.

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