Would it matter much if we had nowhere to go to whinge about racist remarks?

Why – exactly – should we be concerned about moves to abolish the title of race relations commissioner?

Abolishing the title doesn’t mean the work will be abolished or that taxpayers will be spared the need to keep funding it.

At least, that’s not Alf’s understanding (although, very privately, he looks forward to being proved wrong and being told by his colleagues they are closing the office).

But there are plenty of tossers who seem to think something terrible is happening to the race relations commissioner and/or his title.

Alf observes that tossers tend to be drawn to the Labour or Green Parties and is researching the matter to buttress his theory.

Hence he seized on an item of TV3 news yesterday –

Former race relations conciliator and now Labour MP Rajen Prasad says the public should be very concerned about moves to abolish the title of race relations commissioner, and says the move is only aimed at keeping the commissioner quiet.

TV3 reminded us that Rajen Prasad was the race relations conciliator for five years, as was former All Black Chris Laidlaw.

Hmm. Laidlaw did a stint as a Labour MP too.

Anyway, this Rajen Prasad feller says the title he once carried is necessary.

“It gives a very clear signal to the community about the role of a particular commissioner and historically the public has taken that role very seriously,” says Mr Prasad.

And –

“[There are] a lot of important issues around the treaty and race relations education, as well as major cases that have come up over the years around racism,” he says.

Major cases?

None that Alf can remember.

So far as he can see, the office essentially serves as an official collection point for expressions of instant outrage and demands for action after someone has injudiciously said “nigger” or “holocaust” on the radio or TV, or in a speech to a boozy gathering, or some such.

Statistics dug up by the hacks at Stuff for their report on what’s happening to the race relations commissioner uphold Alf’s cynicism.

In 2010 the Human Rights Commission received 543 complaints on race-related grounds, about a third of all discrimination complaints. About 11 per cent were about racial harassment, particularly in the area of employment.

A large number of complaints stemmed from broadcaster Paul Henry’s comments about the governor-general and former All Black Andy Haden’s comments about rugby players of Pacific Island origin.

So are we Nats at long last doing taxpayers a favour by shutting down the office?

Sad to say, no.

According to TV3 –

…Justice Minister Judith Collins says the move is actually aimed at broadening the fight against injustice, “proposing the appointment of a chief commissioner and up to four full-time human rights commissioners, who will lead the work associated with race relations, equal employment opportunities and disability rights.”


What move?

You had to read the aforementioned Stuff report earlier in the day to find out what might be going on.

It said –

Moves are afoot to abolish the title of race relations commissioner, which minority groups and critics say could downgrade the position’s importance.

An amendment to the Human Rights Act introduced to Parliament late last year would abolish the title, although the duties would still be done by a human rights commissioner.

The race relations commissioner has been part of the Human Rights Commission since 2002.

The office is held by Joris de Bres, whose term ends (hurrah) in September.

He will oppose the proposed change when submissions are called for.

In these submissions we can expect him to reiterate concerns he expressed when the legislative change was first aired.

“I advised the minister at the time that I felt it would reduce the visibility of the office and also reduce its independence.”

At present, he explained, the commissioner acts jointly with, but is not subject to, the chief human rights commissioner’s direction.

“And that is specifically changed in the amendment.”

De Bres believes the change will be seen by many minority communities “as a downgrading of the position”.

From another perspective, of course, it’s nothing more dastardly than a plan to ensure the Race Relations Commissioner has a boss.

The Stuff report, by the way, show the Greens have been wrong-footed by these manoeuvrings.

The Greens said they were nervous about the idea of “generic” commissioners dealing with issues of race and disability.

“We thought the bill was about establishing a disability commissioner, which is what I fought for,” Green MP Catherine Delahunty said.

Instead, the bill had turned into a “bit of a review of the whole of the Human Rights Commission” and the public deserved to be consulted.

The Bill presented by the Greens can be read here.

It was crafted to create the position of Disability Commissioner within the Human Rights Commission “whose mandate is to contribute to progressing the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the Convention). It is important that the Disability Commissioner do so in active engagement with the various communities of people living with impairments in Aotearoa/New Zealand….”

Oh dear, Alf thought at the time it was introduced in August last year.

But now that she is our Justice and Ethnic Affairs Minister, Judith Collins sees the scope for giving commissioners more flexibility as they grapple with a wider range of issues not covered under old legislation.

“The leadership role the commission has in protecting and promoting race relations and equal employment opportunities will remain the same. There will still be fulltime commissioners leading these areas of work.”

Just to show it’s the title that matters, not the actual job done, the Federation of Multicultural Councils (representing 100 ethnic groups) has vowed to fight “to keep the race relations title” because it helps uphold the importance of their issues.

The head of the Wellington branch of the New Zealand Chinese Association, Steven Young, much more sensibly said he was less concerned about the commissioner’s title and more concerned about the job.

Alf’s view is that we are ill-served by both the title and the job if the consequence is to suppress racist remarks.

When racists no longer express their racist views, how are we to know who is a racist?

That’s what’s so fundamentally honest about Hone Harawira. We know exactly what he thinks when he sends an email about criticism of his trip to Paris or tells a newspaper he would not be comfortable with his children dating a Pakeha.

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