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Racism within state a focus

Opinion Piece

Meng Foon has taken up his new role as Race Relations Commissioner and immediately taken on an elephant in the room — the racism of the state.

Newsroom senior political reporter Laura Walters attended yesterday’s powhiri for Mr Foon and said much of the multi-cultural affair was focused squarely on New Zealand and our human rights record, and the effort to create a more inclusive Aotearoa — rather than the Christchurch terror attack where 51 Muslims were killed (which took place when there was no commissioner in place) or the current global climate that has led to a rise in debate around white supremacy and hate speech.

“There was a recognition that some of the country’s most dire records, including that on poverty, had come about largely through colonisation and racist systems,” Walters reported yesterday.

“There was also acknowledgment that current government policies were racist — an issue raised in the recent discussion over the impact on Maori caused by the prisoner voting ban.”

Mr Foon said he would have a focus on racism within government departments, which he said had the highest instances of reported racism. A third of complaints to the Human Rights Commission last year related to unlawful discrimination to do with behaviour or policies of government departments.

They needed to get their house in order, said Mr Foon.

“I’m keen to actually listen to the people. But I also want to find out what is their solution.

“For so long we have — as government departments — imposed solutions on people and that is wrong,” said Mr Foon.

“What we’ve been doing for the past 100 years is escalating into more problems than solutions.”

He had the full support of Justice Minister Andrew Little, who said when Mr Foon saw something racist or wrong he should call it out, including the Government. The disproportionate number of Maori in prison and the issues around Oranga Tamariki showed that racism still prevailed within the state.

Little also said the state, and the country, was now on a journey to fulfill the promise of Te Tiriti, and the promise of diversity.