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Race Relations Commissioner Must Go - Sharples

‘Race Relations Commissioner Must Go’ Says Sharples

Thursday 13 April 2006

Dr Pita R Sharples has called upon the Race Relations Commissioner to resign.

“The role of the Race Relations Commissioner was established to provide leadership on matters of race relations” said Dr Pita Sharples. “The current Commissioner has failed, abysmally, to take up this role in relation to engagement with tangata whenua”.

As the foundation Chief Executive Officer of the Office of the Race Relations Conciliator (appointed in 1972) under the first Conciliator, the late Sir Guy Powles, Dr Sharples said the thrust of the office no longer recognises the concept of "tangata whenua" and the very particular issues which relate to a First Nations People, such as the Maori of Aotearoa.

"The rights of the indigenous peoples are not only central to a nation’s race relations but they are paramount in determining the strategic framework for implementing policies of fair race relations amongst all the various racial and ethnic factions living together" he said.

Dr Sharples said he was absolutely flabbergasted that the Human Rights Commission failed to engage in any meaningful way in mediating race relations during the whole period of the crisis around the protection of Takutaimoana (culminating in the Foreshore and Seabed Act).

"He was aware of Maori concern, he should have been aware of Maori spiritual and physical relationship with the land and the sea, and yet he offered no counsel to the Government over this issue” said Dr Sharples.

“He heard the Maori referred to as "haters and wreckers", he watched the thirty-five thousand strong hikoi being ignored, and he read the Waitangi Tribunal's ‘Foreshore and Seabed Report’ which dealt harsh criticism to the Government for delivering “extreme uncertainty” to Maori, in a policy which contained “fundamental flaws”, a policy which clearly breached Te Tiriti o Waitangi, as well as failing “in terms of wider norms of domestic and international law that underpin good government in a modern democratic state” (page xiv).

“Then to top it all off, the Commission took more than ten months to reply to a complaint lodged by Tariana Turia on 14 April 2005, fobbing off a response as being delayed because of competing work priorities”.

The complaint lodged by Mrs Turia referred to the United Nations’ findings that the Foreshore and Seabed Act contained discriminatory aspects against Māori, in particular in its extinguishment of the possibility of establishing Māori customary title over the foreshore and seabed.

“I have to wonder, what part of obstructing ‘due process’ does the Commissioner not understand?" asked Dr Sharples.

Dr Sharples said his call for the resignation arose out of deep concern over the Commissioner's remarks made in response to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, when Joris de Bres called that report "divisive and unconstructive".

"Nothing", said Dr Sharples "could be more divisive than the actual foreshore legislation. How could any New Zealander, let alone the Race Relations Commissioner, ignore the hurt of Maori people over this issue?"

"The inactivity of the Commissioner and in fact the whole Human Rights Commission in supporting the tangata whenua against this blatant miscarriage of racial justice must stand guilty of racial bias."

"To make matters worse, the Race Relations Commissioner continues to misunderstand the very issues that he was appointed to adjudicate upon. I refer to his remarks at the 'Beyond Rangatiratanga 2006' Symposium on Tuesday, where he clearly failed to recognise the "human rights" outlined in Stavenhagen's report - the rights to equal opportunity, due process of law, and freedom from illegal discrimination on any grounds, including racism."

Joris de Bres also told the Beyond Rangatiratanga 2006 symposium in Wellington that he would have "taken a less definitive stance" and made “less specific recommendations, particularly relating to constitutional change” if he had been responsible for the report of the Special Rapporteur.

“It defies belief” said Dr Sharples. “The Race Relation Office’s own recent report, indicated that race relations was ranked as the third most important issue behind health and the economy in 2005. Here we had a perfect opportunity to respond to the Special Rapporteur’s call to debate these issues ‘responsibly and democratically ….in order to determine the kind of society New Zealand will be in the future”.

“In shying from this responsibility, yet again, Mr de Bres has proven he is incapable of providing the leadership we need at this turning point in our nation’s history. He must go” stated Dr Sharples.


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