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Commission's role to build discussion and dialogue

Human Rights Commission
Media Release
13 April 2006

Commission's role to build discussion and dialogue

The Human Rights Commission has provided advice to government and Parliament and promoted constructive discussion throughout the public debate on the foreshore and seabed issue, Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres said today.

He was responding to criticism of the Commission by Maori Party co-leader Dr Pita Sharples.

Mr de Bres said it was not correct to say that the Commission had failed to engage on the foreshore and seabed issue, although no-one was able to bridge the gap between different parties because positions became so entrenched.

Mr de Bres said that key Commission actions had included the following:

* The Commission made an extensive submission to the Prime Minister on the subject in November 2003, before the Bill was introduced into Parliament, pointing out potential breaches of human rights.

* The Commission commented positively on the Waitangi Tribunal report in March 2004 and called for dialogue, as recommended by the Tribunal

* The Commission provided a detailed submission on the Foreshore and Seabed Bill to the Select Committee in July 2004.

* The Commission received a number of complaints about the Foreshore and Seabed Act, including a complaint from Ms Tariana Turia which was received on 14 April 2005. All complaints were acknowledged and there was further correspondence with the complainants about the process, including Ms Turia. The matter was notified to Crown Law on 1 June 2005, with a request for their response to the issues raised as part of the normal mediation process. The response from Crown Law was not received by the Commission until 16 February 2006, which was the reason for the delay in responding substantively to Ms Turia. Throughout this time, the Commission was in contact with Ms Turia to inform her about the progress of the matter.

* The Commission has organised public forums to debate the issue and other matters relating to human rights and the Treaty of Waitangi . Over 15,000 people have been involved in symposia, dialogue sessions and presentations over the past two years, including Maori and Government spokespeople and other community leaders.

Mr de Bres said that his response to the Report of the UN Special Rapporteur, Professor Stavenhagen, had not been reported fully on Radio New Zealand and he had registered a complaint with them about that. He said that the radio report, on which Dr Sharples' criticism was based did not capture his view that the recommendations of the report were a "missed opportunity".

Mr de Bres said that at a hui on Rangatiratanga at Victoria University on Tuesday (which was organised by the Commission) he had made it clear that his comments were not about the body of the report, which set out many of the issues clearly, and in fact quoted extensively from the Commission's own submission on the Foreshore and Seabed Bill. Rather he was disappointed with the recommendations, which he felt were unlikely to be accepted in their present form. He felt that in a different form they could have led to renewed dialogue and cooperation on the important issues raised.

Mr de Bres said he would continue to look for ways in which the issues raised by the UN Special Rapporteur's report could be practically advanced.

He said that that an important aspect of the Commission's role was to build constructive relationships between the diverse groups that make up New Zealand, not to act as a lobbyist for any particular group. The Commission's focus was on dispute resolution and getting parties to talk to one another.

The Commission has provided its assessment of race relations in New Zealand in its recent report, Race Relations in 2005 . The report is available on the Commission's website and can be ordered in hard copy by phoning 0800 496 877.

Mr de Bres said he would seek to meet with Dr Sharples to discuss the issues further.

"I have the highest regard for Pita as a former staff member of the Race Relations Office and hope we can resolve some of these misunderstandings."

ENDS

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