The Future of Race Relations Joris de Bres, Race Relations Commissioner Summer Lecture Series, Tairawhiti Museum, Gisborne, 7 December 2007 The year 2007 is drawing to a close, and before I consider the future of race relations as requested, I want to look back at race relations in the past year. The Human Rights Commission publishes a review of race relations every year in March, in time for Race Relations Day, so I have been looking at what has happened this year as we have gathered material for the review. If I were to ask any of you what were the most significant developments in race relations in 2007, I would be surprised if the recent police anti-terrorism operation in a number of centres and particularly in Ruatoki was not on the list. The claims and counterclaims are continuing, there are people who remain traumatised, angry or just concerned one way or another, there are demonstrations, vigils, appeals for funds, arguments, benefit concerts, court appearances and media attention. Most of us are still wondering what lay behind such an extensive and forceful operation; we find it hard to believe that it could be justified under the Terrorism Suppression Act; we were relieved that the Solicitor General did not find sufficient grounds to approve charges being laid under that Act; and we remain intensely interested in the process and the outcome of the charges laid against the 16 people, both Maori and Pakeha, under the Arms Act for alleged illegal possession of firearms. But whatever happened on the morning of 15 October in Ruatoki, Whakatane, Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington and Christchurch and subsequently elsewhere will not be fully known to the general public until all due processes have been completed, and that will take some time. The impact on race relations cannot be measured until the appropriateness of the use of the Terrorism Suppression Act, allegations of police misconduct, of breaches of human rights and of racial discrimination have all been properly examined and dealt with. The mending of the relationships of the police with the Tuhoe people and with other Maori, which have undoubtedly been affected, will also depend on the satisfactory resolution of these issues. The concern of the Human Rights Commission is to ensure that citizens and communities who are subject to any form of state force are protected, and, as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights so succinctly puts it, “that any person whose rights or freedoms as herein recognised are violated shall have an effective remedy, notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.” That remedy should be available in the first instance through the Independent Police Conduct Authority, newly constituted this year with a new name, more resources and greater independence, following the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct which reported in March. The amending legislation was passed as recently as September. It has not as yet been put to the test. Whether it is an effective remedy or not will obviously depend on the way that the Authority deals with any complaints in the present situation. It is surprising that the media, who have demonstrated such an intense interest in the whole proceedings, have done little or nothing to advise people of their rights and to outline the recent history and mandate of the Authority in this regard. My advice is certainly for anyone directly affected by the police operation who feels that their human rights were breached to lodge a complaint with the Authority so that it can be properly investigated. Other protections of course include the court system itself and the right to a fair trial. The Human Rights Commission can also provide mediation for complaints that the police action was discriminatory on the grounds of race or ethnic origin, and we are considering a number of such complaints. If people are unsure who to complain to about their concerns, I strongly encourage them to contact the Commission and we can deal with them, or, with their permission, forward them on as appropriate. The Commission is also developing a resource on the human rights issues that need to be considered in the context of this kind of police operation, including issues concerning the Terrorism Suppression Act, about which we have long had reservations. When we consider the immediate future of race relations in the light of these recent events, it would be appropriate to say that the foundation for good race relations is first and foremost adherence to the rule of law, and more generally respect for human rights. People must have, in the words of the Covenant, an effective remedy if they feel their rights have been breached. It is in everybody’s interests that these matters are properly investigated. Looking back at other things that happened in 2007, I consider that the most significant developments for race relations were in the realm of education. Last month saw the launch of the new school curriculum, which has taken three years to develop and was the subject of very extensive consultation, involving 15,000 people and 10,000 submissions. It is not every year that we get the opportunity to look at what we think our children should learn to equip them for life in New Zealand – the previous curriculum has been in place for 15 years. The remarkable thing about the completion of such an important document is that its final release sparked no controversy whatsoever. It had multi-party and multi-sector support. It must have something to tell us therefore about how we see ourselves, and how we want our children to see themselves, in the 21st century. The new curriculum is important for the future of race relations because of the core principles that it sets out. There are eight of these principles. They have to underpin and inform everything that is taught in the school, and they include: Treaty of Waitangi The curriculum acknowledges the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, and the bicultural foundations of Aotearoa New Zealand. All students have the opportunity to acquire knowledge of te reo Māori me ōna tikanga. Cultural diversity The curriculum reflects New Zealand’s cultural diversity and values the histories and traditions of all its people. Inclusion The curriculum is non-sexist, non-racist, and non-discriminatory; it ensures that students’ identities, languages, abilities, and talents are recognised and affirmed and that their learning needs are addressed. Also throughout the curriculum students are to be encouraged to value diversity, as found in our different cultures, languages, and heritages, equity, through fairness and social justice and community and participation for the common good, and to respect themselves, others, and human rights. For the first time, the curriculum gives full recognition to te reo Maori as well as New Zealand Sign Language as official languages of New Zealand, and recognises the special importance of Pacific languages as languages of our region. And also for the first time, a new learning area is added to the core curriculum: learning languages, so that all New Zealand children will have the opportunity to become bilingual or multilingual. This year has also seen the launch of a draft new curriculum for Maori immersion schools, Te Marautanga o Aotearoa, a new curriculum for learning Maori in mainstream schools, and new curriculum guidelines for Tongan and Niuean, joining the previously released guidelines for Samoan and Cook Island Maori. The Human Rights Commission, along with the Children’s Commissioner, Amnesty International, the Development Resource Centre, and the Peace Foundation, have together launched an initiative this year called Building Human Rights Communities in Education, which will support the new emphasis on human rights and diversity in the curriculum. Reading the new curriculum and observing the positive reactions to it should reassure us about the future of race relations, because we have affirmed our diversity, recognised the Treaty and stated basic human rights principles clearly for our children. Somehow, in the middle of all the debates we have about the Treaty and aspects of diversity, we seem to have been able to agree on some very basic and very important principles. I find that encouraging, and also timely, because the children who are already in our schools or those who will enter them during the life of the new curriculum are themselves the most diverse school population we have ever had. The most recent education statistics, as at 1 July 2007, provide the following breakdown by broad ethnic category (excluding international students): Pakeha: 58.3% Maori: 21.9% Pasifika: 9.3% Asian: 8.4% In other words, nearly 40% of school students throughout New Zealand are of Maori, Pacific and Asian ethnicity. The trend towards greater diversity is set to continue, with data on live births for the year ended September 2007 providing the following picture: Pakeha: 54.6% Maori: 22.8% Pasifika: 11.9% Asian: 8.4% Interestingly, the latest birth statistics also indicate that whereas in the 2006 census 10% of New Zealanders identified with more than one ethnic group, the number of babies identified with more than one ethnic group in 2007 was 25%. Two-thirds of Māori babies and one-half of Pacific babies belonged to multiple ethnic groups, compared with roughly one-third of babies within the European, Asian and other ethnic groups. As Ranginui Walker once famously said, the future of race relations is actually being determined in the bedrooms of the nation. We should look ahead with some confidence that younger generations will be living diversity as well as learning about it. However, the public discourse about race relations among the rest of us has over the last few years revealed a degree of fractiousness. It is for this reason that the theme for next year’s Race Relations Day is “Finding Common Ground”. It will promote public discussion on the draft statement on race relations that was released for initial feedback at the New Zealand Diversity Forum in August. The statement builds on the Statement on Religious Diversity which was published after community discussion earlier this year. Like the latter, the Statement on Race Relations seeks to address key issues in race relations through a human rights framework, identifying some basic principles that most New Zealanders should find it possible to affirm. The statement is a discussion tool rather than a declaration, and in its final form should also provide a framework for measuring or at least monitoring the state of our race relations. The introduction to the statement briefly outlines our history, recognises Maori as tangata whenua, sets out the three key elements of the Treaty of Waitangi and affirms the ongoing duty of the Crown to actively protect Maori indigenous rights, language, culture, lands and resources. It refers to international human rights standards and New Zealand human rights legislation. Then it proposes some basic human rights principles that underpin good race relations. These are: Freedom from Discrimination Discrimination on the basis of race, colour, ethnic or national origins and religion is unlawful. All people in New Zealand have the right to protection from such discrimination and to appropriate remedies if they experience it. Freedom of Expression People are free to speak their mind, but not to incite racial hostility. People of diverse ethnicities, cultures and beliefs are entitled to be represented and given voice in the media in an accurate, balanced and fair manner. Safety Hateful acts including racial abuse, racial assault and damage to property are criminal offences. All people have the right to safety of their person and of their private and communal property. Social Inclusion New Zealand strives to be an inclusive society in which people of all ethnicities, cultures and beliefs can participate and be heard. People are entitled to be consulted and involved in decisions that affect them, and to be represented in all branches and at all levels of government. Access and Opportunity Access to work, education, health services, housing, justice, and goods and services should be available to all on an equal basis. Where social and economic inequalities exist between different ethnic groups, those that are disadvantaged are entitled to temporary special measures to achieve equality. Settlement Migrants have the same rights as other New Zealanders, with few exceptions. New migrants and refugees are entitled to support from government and the community to settle and integrate successfully. Education All children have a right to education. Through the curriculum and the culture of the school, they should be equipped for life in a diverse society, including recognition of their own language, culture and beliefs, knowledge of the cultures and beliefs of others, and respect for the rights of all. Cultural Diversity The diversity of New Zealanders’ origins, cultures and beliefs is an important social, economic and cultural asset. This diversity is fostered, strengthened and celebrated through the arts, cultural programmes, and community development. All people have the right to practice their own culture, speak their own language and observe their own religion or belief. The Rights of Others All New Zealanders, in upholding and exercising their own rights and freedoms, have a responsibility to respect and uphold the rights and freedoms of others and to contribute to harmonious relationships between the diverse individuals and groups that make up New Zealand society. We have already had some useful feedback from people about this initial draft, and we will be revising it before Race Relations Day to reflect that. Already, you might have noted some striking parallels with the principles and values of the new school curriculum. These are coincidental, but the aim of the further public discussion is certainly to see if we can reach a similar consensus in the wider community context. We are not looking for a perfect statement but rather a framework for ongoing dialogue about the issues it raises. The future of race relations depends on whether or not we can achieve a degree of consensus on such basic rights and responsibilities and whether we have the commitment to ensure that they are enjoyed and exercised by all New Zealanders. After all, as the poster for next year’s Race Relations Day says, “We all sit under the same stars”, so we should do our best to also find common ground in our relationships with one other.
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