Catherine Delahunty

Sports missing from Race Relations Commissioner criteria

by Catherine Delahunty

Just checked the Human Rights Act 1993 to see if being a celebrity sportsperson is a criterion for the Race Relations Commissioner, and you know what? It isn’t.

The criteria in fact are high falutin requirements that the minister making the appointment needs to consider.

They include that the person:

a)    Has an understanding of current race relations in New Zealand, and of the origins and development of those relations:

b)    Has an appreciation of issues or trends in race relations arising in other countries or internationally, and of the relevance of those issues or trends for New Zealand.

The criteria Justice Minister Judith Collins was working from appear to be quite different.

They include that the person:

a)     Is a famous sports person.

b)     See (a).

Basically to be in the running it would be an advantage to be a runner, or a rugby player or a netball player or a squash player.

One News reported last night that rugby great Michael Jones and netballer Irene van Dyk were shortlisted for the position before it was given to Dame Susan Devoy.

Apparently van Dyk made it to the interview stage, while Jones was offered the job but decided against it.

Those people sound like they might be quite talented and able and perhaps they should flick a CV off to Sport New Zealand.

Sure being well-known is an advantage and excelling at sports does show grit and determination. In fact the Human Rights Act does highlight leadership as a good characteristic to have. But it did also mention a couple of pesky little attributes about a depth of knowledge and understanding of race relations that these candidates have not demonstrated.

Were previous ministers wrong to think it would be good if candidates could bring their prior experience and knowledge to the job; could undertake inquiries, respond to complaints and report on race relations in New Zealand from a position of understanding?

Is it better to present a famous smiling face on race relations in New Zealand to create a cheery picture of race relations that doesn’t reflect the pain and suffering of those who face discrimination?

I hope Dame Susan seizes this challenge and learns what she needs to do the job. I hope too though that the Minister can reflect on this appointment and look hard at her motivation for scouring the country for sportspeople to take the lead role on race relations in Aotearoa.

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Catherine Delahunty on Tue, April 30th, 2013   

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