Are we really at the Top Table Minister?
Wellington, July 7, 2021
On the 1st of July 2021, amidst an array of cultural performances and a selection of leaders from New Zealand’s over 213 multicultural communities, the Ministry of (Diversity, Inclusion and) Ethnic Communities was launched by Minister Priyanca Radhakrishnan.
It was an unusual affair held early in the morning, ostensibly to ensure that the Minster could have a Patsy at Question Time from a new Caucus Colleague and it was clear that she was sticking to her vague talking points when I asked my own Question to her.
What stood out most of all in her responses was the repetition of the phrase “seat at the top table,” that, in the transformation of the Executive Director into a Chief Executive, the role would instantaneously now be able to ‘influence change’ in a way no previous Executive Director or Internal Affairs Chief Executive could have for ethnic New Zealanders.
This effectively undermines the arguments of her predecessor Jenny Salesa in the last Parliament when she was talking up her ‘uplift’ of the Office of Ethnic Communities, the real action this brand re-fresh doesn’t build much further upon.
In fairness to the organisers, the Launch was a lovely morning, meeting old friends from around New Zealand who gathered in our House of Representatives and we saw some beautiful displays of cultural talent through song and dance. However, an ongoing issue tossed in my mind as we listened to Waiata and Speeches. How are we, New Zealand’s ethnic communities, now at the top table, and surely, weren’t we already before?
You see, since the establishment of a Minister responsible for Ethnic New Zealanders it has always been a Cabinet Rank portfolio. In this 53rd Parliament, for the very first time, in over 20 years the role has existed, it has moved outside of Cabinet leaving the Minister without the mana and influence to make real impact on Government policies.
Never has the role sat so low on the Ministerial rankings and that move was a shock to Ethnic Kiwis like me who, myself sitting as National’s Ethnic Communities Spokesperson on the Opposition Front Benches, fail to understand how a majority Labour led government, the first in the history of MMP, could have kicked the Minister representing our community interests in government from their own top table. Priyanca is a nice and well-meaning person so it is bizarre that Labour are treating her and the portfolio with such disdain.
The government can spend millions upgrading the Office of Ethnic Communities into a subpar Second tier quality Ministry that the Minister herself recognises is still under the thumb of the Department of Internal Affairs. This is because as host Agency responsible for HR, recruitment and IT, so called ‘backend functions’ which in my opinion will be deeply important to the culture and standing of any government department operating independently from another. Ultimately it will mean nothing other than wasted time and money if there is no real influence for the portfolio or the Ministry in Jacinda Ardern’s Government.
The quip was made to me the other day if the Ministry is now at the top table it’s in a high-chair being bottle-fed by the Department of Internal Affairs, their corporate nursemaid in charge of all the finances and corporate decision-making.
That might feel a bit provocative and it’s frankly on the mark. The government has spent millions on a re-branding but it’s taking them days to just get their social media branding up and running let alone what they will conceive this Ministry will do differently than before.
I challenge the Minister to demand her Caucus colleagues and the Prime Minister give her the uplift she should expect as the Minister responsible for New Zealand’s Ethnic Communities and if she cannot, she must consider her position and hope another may have more luck at a real chair at Cabinet’s top table.
Our communities deserve better than this.
Melissa Lee is a Member of Parliament on National List and the Party’s Spokesperson for Broadcasting & Media| Digital Economy and Communications and Ethnic Communities. She has decades of experience in the media industry.