Report – By Thakur Ranjit Singh
The New Zealand government’s proposal to scrap the Office of Race Relations Commissioner is provoking opposition from minority groups and ethnic organisations.
Late last year, an amendment was introduced into Parliament to drop this office and the role is to be taken over by the Human Rights Commissioner.
Speaking on Radio Tarana on a talkback show, former Race Relations Commissioner and List Labour MP Dr Rajen Prasad said: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – something that has been working well doesn’t need to be changed.
He told the station that since it the office had been established more than four decades ago, it had been working well without any complaints.
It was diluted in 2002 when it lost its prosecution powers and was merged with Human Rights Commissioner’s Office, but the chair remained.
Prasad said there had been no calls, reports or recommendations anywhere for its scrapping and a mere economic reason was no justification for such a drastic and unpopular move.
The Auckland Council’s Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel (EPAP) said in a media statement it did not support the call to abolish the title of Race Relations Commissioner.
The acting chair of the Ethnic Panel, Rev. Amail Habib, said that despite assurances that the work of the office would continue, the panel strongly believed that abolishing the title would minimise the impact that racism and discrimination had on the multicultural nation’s wellbeing.
He said the removal of a named title would further marginalise and make invisible those communities most often affected by the consequences of racism and discrimination.
“ In fact, what the Ethnic Panel advocates for is the 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,” he said.
If anything, he said the panel would also like to see the office able to make binding judgments on breaches of human rights affected by racism and discrimination.
Similar views were also expressed by the Waitakere Ethnic Board in a media statement.
It agreed with Prasad that they were unaware of any reports, recommendations and reasons for such a drastic and unpopular move to scrap the chair.
The board supported the EPAP proposal for the position to regain its teeth and prosecution powers that it lost in 2002 with the merger with the Human Rights Commission.
The board statement said its removal would be an injustice and was a poorly thought out policy. With such a huge and increasing ethnic population, New Zealand still had no ministry looking after the interest of its ethnic population.
“[The board] suspects this move may be due to power play where all the powers are now to be concentrated in the Human Rights Commission with race relations portfolio being watered down. It suspects some strong views and statements from the Race Relations Commissioner casting the government and the ruling elite in a negative light may be one of the reasons to punish this office. ”
The board also called on all ethnic organisations – together with all Pacific, Maori, ethnic and “reasonable” Parliamentarians – to oppose this move.
The Waitakere Indian Association (WIA) has also opposed the move.
Current Race Relations Commissioner Joris De Bres had been a “regular speaker at our Holi Festivals which encouraged diversity and multiculturalism”
This year’s Holi will be at Trust Stadium grounds in Henderson on March 11 from midday.