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Where is Mr Swain on Corrections’ Racism?

Where is Mr Swain on Corrections’ Racism?

Stephen Franks
Thursday, 30 June 2005
Press Releases - Other

Why are journalists not demanding that Corrections Minister Paul Swain front up on the racism in official Corrections Department policies,” ACT Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks said today.

“Josie Bullock has been censured for refusing to go along with official gender discrimination just because it was part of Maori custom.

“Labour may be ignorant of the irony. Josie has been disciplined for refusing to move to the back of the room behind the men at a work ceremony last December. Exactly 50 years earlier in December 1955 Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of an Alabama bus. That led eventually to the US Supreme Court ruling that government segregation is unlawful, and kicked off Martin Luther King’s fame.

“It is cowardly for a greasy politician to leave managers to defend the indefensible. Labour has soaked the entire public service in racism, and now they are trying to leave the victims with the blame.

“Mr Swain is very well aware of the impossible position his officials are now in. In February I asked him more than a dozen questions about the case. He hid behind the “operational matter” excuse for not answering, despite a clear Speaker’s Ruling 133/3 that “there is no convention that Ministers are not responsible for operational matters”.

“He leaves his official to mumble that they don’t know how to resolve the problem as “all departments have with this conflict been between the law and longstanding Maori custom”. Absolute drivel. As they and the Minister know the law must prevail. The very purpose of anti-discrimination law was to interfere with and to ban some longstanding customs.

“Mr Swain and the cabinet have been happily trashing majority customs for the whole time they have been in power, ranging from the trivial, like showing respect for the Queen at a state dinner, to the major, like scoffing at the ordinary wisdom that calls for publicity and shame and genuine punishment for crime.

Here are a couple of the Swain questions and answers from March this year. “Does he disagree with the probation officer’s views that the Maori custom is sexist which requires women to sit behind men at a poroporaki, and that it set a bad example to male offenders, and if so why? Answer ‘An investigation is currently underway into aspects of a particular case involving Maori custom’.

“Does he believe there is or should be a straightforward rule to determine when gender discrimination against any Corrections employee might be justified by the custom or culture of some other employee and if so what is it?

Answer ‘I expect my department not to tolerate unfair discrimination. I also expect it to demonstrate respect for the diversity of cultures represented amongst its employees. By their nature these issues are not conducive to straightforward rules.’

"My comment – yeah, so why criminalise sexist discrimination if you don’t think it should be the subject of a “straightforward rule?" Mr Franks said.


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