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Racial discrimination poll lowest in seven years

Embargoed against publication until 6am, Saturday 16 February

Human Rights Commission

16 February 2008

Racial discrimination poll lowest in seven years

The proportion of people who believe Asians, recent immigrants and refugees are discriminated against is the lowest it has been since tracking began seven years ago, according to a UMR research poll conducted for the Human Rights Commission.

Respondents were asked to name groups of people who they think are generally most discriminated against in New Zealand. 11.1% said Asians for their first mention, 10.5% said middle class or working class people and 8.9% said Māori. The most common first mentions however were ‘unsure’ (15.5%) and ‘none’ (13.3%).

Respondents were then given a list of twelve different groups in today’s society and asked to rate their perceived discrimination level using a forced 4-point scale. Asians topped the list, with 68% saying this group is discriminated against ‘a great deal’ or ‘some’. 62% said people on welfare, recent immigrants and people who are overweight are discriminated against at the same level. The groups with the lowest perceived discrimination were women (39%) and men (29%).

The poll results are contained in the discrimination section of the Commission’s annual Race Relations Report, which is to be published in March. The discrimination section is released today by Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres at a national meeting of the New Zealand Federation of Ethnic Councils in Christchurch

Mr de Bres said that there were further indicators that the climate for race relations had improved. The UMR Mood of the Nation report released last week saw race relations drop off the list of the top ten issues most worrying New Zealanders; and it topped the list of issues they were most optimistic about in 2007. Race related complaints to the Commission had fallen by about 15% in the past year.

Mr de Bres said that while this was welcome news, it had to be interpreted carefully. The rates of perceived discrimination, while falling, are still high; and the report also lists a series of very serious hate crimes that occurred last year. These included racial harassment and racially motivated attacks on Asians in Palmerston North, Nelson, Queenstown, Whangarei, Christchurch, Tauranga, Napier and Invercargill. There was also plenty of anecdotal evidence of “low-level” racial abuse. Even though these are the actions of a minority of New Zealanders, they remain a cause for major concern.

A new survey conducted by UMR for the Commission this year was on the respondents’ personal experiences of discrimination. One in five New Zealanders said they had experienced some form of discrimination in the past year, and a significant number of these were race related. Nearly a third of Maori respondents said they had experienced some form of discrimination.

There were 414 race related complaints to the Commission in 2007, with the greatest numbers relating to discrimination in employment and racial harassment, compared to 491 in 2006.


Extract from the Human Rights Commission’s Race Relations Report, Race Relations in 2007, due to be published in early March.

11 Whakahāweatanga: Discrimination

What happened?
 UMR conducted a research poll in December for the Human Rights Commission on people’s experience and perceptions of discrimination
 The media reported a number of incidents of racially motivated crime and harassment
 The Human Rights Commission received 414 complaints of racial discrimination and harassment
 The Human Rights Review Tribunal heard one case relating to alleged discrimination in cultural practices
Perceptions and Experience of Discrimination

A UMR research poll conducted in December for the Human Rights Commission surveyed New Zealanders’ perceptions of discrimination and personal experience of discrimination. Perceived discrimination was generally lower in 2007 than in previous years. The proportions of respondents who believe Asians, recent immigrants and refugees are discriminated against were easily at their lowest levels since tracking began in December 2000.

Respondents were asked to name groups of people who they think are generally most discriminated against in New Zealand. 11.1% said Asians for their first mention, 10.5% said middle class or working class people and 8.9% said Māori. The most common first mentions however were ‘unsure’ (15.5%) and ‘none’ (13.3%).

The total proportion of race-related first mentions was down from the previous survey in February 2006, falling from 42.6% to 37.1%. Contributing to this fall was a 5.3% drop in the proportion who first mentioned Asians and a 3.3% drop in the proportion who first mentioned recent immigrants. The proportion who first mentioned Māori increased 2.5% to 8.9%.

Respondents who gave a first mention (i.e. did not say unsure or none) were then asked to name all other groups they think are discriminated against in New Zealand. When looking at total mentions (first mention + all other mentions), Asians were easily the most perceived discriminatory group, mentioned by 26.2%. Māori received 16.9% of all mentions and middle class or working class people received 12.7% of all mentions.

The one type of discrimination that respondents felt had significantly increased was discrimination based on income level. The proportion of people who didn’t name any groups as being discriminated against was nearly double the figure from 2006.

Respondents were then given a list of twelve different groups in today’s society and asked to rate their perceived discrimination level using a forced 4-point scale. Once again, Asians topped the list, with 68% saying this group is discriminated ‘a great deal’ or ‘some’. 62% said people on welfare, recent immigrants and people who are overweight are discriminated against at the same level. The groups with the lowest perceived discrimination were women (39%) and men (29%).

Perceived discrimination amongst these groups was generally lower than in 2006. Of the twelve groups, nine had lower discrimination levels from 2006 and eight had their lowest levels recorded since tracking began in December 2000. The biggest falls were -8% for recent immigrants, -7% for refugees and -4% for Asians. Discrimination levels for overweight people and older people increased 3% and 2% respectively.

One in five respondents felt they had been personally discriminated against in the past year. Of these, 37% felt discriminated against by a government department or agency and 35% by an employer or potential employer. The most common reason for feeling discriminated against was race related (33%). Many respondents felt they had been discriminated against for multiple reasons. Younger people were more likely to declare personal discrimination (30% of those under 30) compared to older people (11% of those aged 60 plus). Blue collar workers were also more likely to declare personal discrimination (25%) compared to professionals (13%) or retirees (10%). Māori were most likely to feel discriminated against at 31%, compared to 24% of Pacific peoples and 20% of non-Māori New Zealanders.

Media reports of race related incidents

There were a number of media reports of racially motivated crime, harassment and discrimination, including that:

 A Chinese family was subjected to a racist graffiti attack in Palmerston North. They said the windows in their grocery store had also been smashed on about four occasions in the past 12 months. (Manawatu Standard, 6 January)

 A woman was convicted in the Gisborne District Court of a racial attack on a group of Somalis and damage to their vehicle in 2004. (Gisborne Herald, 6 March).

 Three Korean students in Nelson were attacked by two men described by Police as skinheads with white supremacist views. The men were subsequently sentenced to jail terms for assault with intent to injure. (Nelson Mail, 28 March)

 An Indian man was forced to disembark from a Qantas plane flying from Queenstown to Auckland. The crew said it was because other passengers were uncomfortable flying with him, apparently because he was wearing a turban. (Mountain Scene, 15 March)

 A Nelson man was arrested and two youths were referred to Youth Aid after what police described as two racially motivated attacks on Asians in the city. The man attacked a South East Asian woman in her garage, and later the same evening, with the two youths, verbally abused an Indian man. (Nelson Mail, 26 April)

 A group of Asian teenagers contacted the Northern Advocate saying they were often harassed and many of their peers had ‘experienced aggression from a very small but disturbing minority in Whangarei’. They said that despite having spent most of their lives in New Zealand, they were still made to feel like foreigners in a country they called home. (Northern Advocate, 27 April).

 The captain of the Hamilton Wanderers soccer team resigned after his Somali team-mates were subject to a number of racist remarks by officials from Auckland teams in April. The four Somali players also quit the team after the incidents, saying they felt ostracised by their team as well. (Waikato News, 14 April)

 Foreign doctors at Wanganui Hospital said they had been targets of racial abuse and some operations had been cancelled when patients learned that a foreign doctor was the operating surgeon. (TV3 News, 20 June).

 Asian students said that being the target of flying missiles from cars and verbal abuse was becoming a fact of life for more Asian people in Christchurch. (The Press, 2 July)

 Three men with shaven heads and wearing masks acted like ‘crazed animals’, bashing a Chinese student with beer bottles and yelling racial taunts during an early morning home invasion in Christchurch. (The Press, 2 August).

 A teenager was told to remove his painted moko at a soccer game after the opposition complained about it being intimidating. The referee confirmed that he had asked the player to wash off the paint because two players on the opposing team had complained. Asked what would have happened if the moko had been a tattoo, Mr. Stather said he would have had to consult New Zealand Football. (New Zealand Herald, 10 September 2007)

 Two players from the Chinese United football team were arrested after the referee was assaulted during a match at Elmwood Park in Christchurch. Players from the Chinese United team said they thought there was ‘a little’ racial motivation to the fight. They were being called ‘Chinese f....’ during the match. (Christchurch Press, 3 September 2007)

 Six Jewish graves in Wellington’s Karori cemetery were painted with anti-Semitic graffiti following the publication of an interview with the Israeli Ambassador in the Dominion Post (Dominion Post, 1 November).

 A Taiwanese-born teenager and her two younger brothers were assaulted and told to ‘go back to China’ by five young girls in Tauranga. (Bay of Plenty Times, 14 November)

 An Indian man was racially abused as a ‘terrorist’ and a ‘Paki’ and punched in the face by a group of five or six men while getting into a taxi in Queenstown (Mountain Scene, 15 November).

 A Taupo man appeared in court for verbally abusing a group of boys in Napier for ‘hanging around’ with an Asian boy, and then racially abusing the Asian boy, spitting at him and hitting him in the face. (New Zealand Herald, November 22)

 An Invercargill man was arrested in Queenstown for offensive behaviour for allegedly yelling racist slurs such as ‘white power’ from the passenger window of a vehicle. (Mountain Scene, 13 December.)

 A Dunedin academic said his Chinese family members were abused at a children’s playground by teenagers driving by. He said his wife, a New Zealand citizen who had lived in the country for 10 years, dealt with racism on a daily basis in Dunedin from the supermarket assistants who spoke down to her because of her accent or spoke very slowly despite the fact his wife had three university degrees and was about to complete her PhD, to the people who sounded their car horns even though his wife had not made a mistake. (Otago Daily Times, December 24).

Complaints to the Human Rights Commission

The Human Rights Commission received 414 complaints and enquiries involving race-related grounds in 2007, out of a total of 1486 complaints and enquiries about unlawful discrimination.

Over the 4 years that the Commission has been publishing data on race discrimination, the greatest number of complaints and enquiries with a race component was in 2005 when there were 597 - possibly because it was an election year and because it also included the outcome of the investigation by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on the Foreshore and Seabed legislation. The lowest was in 2004, when there were 304.

The pattern of complaints is similar to that of previous years although towards the end of the reporting period, the anti-terrorism raids by the Police in Ruatoki and some of the resulting comments skewed the complaints about inciting racial disharmony.

The grounds of complaint broke down as follows (including the percentage of complaints received for all grounds):

 Colour 14 (0.9%)
 Ethnic or national origin 142 (9.6%)
 Racial disharmony 66 (4.4%)
 Race 258 (17.4%)
 Racial harassment 75 (5%)

Generic race issues or matters of national or ethnic origin were again the most frequent source of complaint. The largest number of complaints related to employment. As in previous years, attempts by employers to prevent their employees from speaking languages other than English and the difficulties experienced by people from other countries in getting employment again figured significantly. By contrast complaints about measures to ensure equality continued to decline. Only one complaint – about a school’s prize for the best Maori student - fell within the relevant provision and the complainant was satisfied with the school’s explanation for establishing the award.

Of the 414 complaints, 100 (such as requests for information) were resolved at a very early stage. Several others were referred to the Commission’s policy team to deal with as broader human rights matters. This should not be seen as reflecting negatively on their importance. At least one (the abatement of overseas pensions against New Zealand superannuation) is of considerable concern to many people but because of its complexity is better addressed as a policy matter rather than through mediation or litigation.

Government agencies

Part 1A of the Human Rights Act applies to discrimination by the public sector or agencies or people acting pursuant to legislation (or the legislation itself). Part 2 applies principally to the private sector. The distinction is not always obvious. For example, while schools may for the most part be considered Part 1A actors (because their education function is essentially public in nature), at times complaints about students’ behaviour are more appropriately dealt with as Part 2 matters.

There were more Part 1A matters this year than previously. 39.7% of the complaints received were classified as Part 1A compared to14% last year (and 23% and 21% in 2005 and 2004). A number related to the need for immigrants to provide evidence that they are able to work in New Zealand while others involved the need for some professionals to obtain extra qualifications. There were also complaints about police behaviour in relation to the anti-terrorism raids and alleged profiling at the border.

A Part 1A complaint that received significant publicity at the time (and is still being mediated) involved the refusal to fly the Rangatiratanga flag on the Auckland harbour bridge on Waitangi Day. A further complaint was also received about the Foreshore and Seabed legislation and this was referred to the Director of Proceedings to be pursued with other complaints on this topic.


191 (35%) of the complaints were employment related. That is, they either involved obtaining or retaining employment which was perceived by the complainants as related to their ethnicity or country of origin, or involved racist treatment in the workplace. In at least one case, the reluctance of an employer to adequately accommodate the religious and cultural requirements of a Muslim employee led to the employee resigning.

The complaints included a number in which an employer considered being of a particular ethnicity was a necessary qualification for the job – a requirement that was considered appropriate in cases where the service targeted that particular ethnicity. There were also a number of complaints about advertisements that required applicants to speak English or English to be their first language. Other language related complaints involved queries about the lawfulness of employers trying to prevent their employees speaking their own language in the lunchroom or during breaks.

Overall there were 34 (or 8%) language related complaints, which was double that of previous years.

Racial harassment

75 (18%) of the complaints involved allegations of racial harassment. For a matter to reach the threshold required by the Act it must be repeated, or of such significance that it has a detrimental effect on the person complaining.

Although many of the complaints received by the Commission do not reach the necessary threshold to justify the Commission intervening, complainants are frequently provided with information to support them advocating on their own behalf.

Of the employment related complaints, 49 (65%) involved racial harassment or complainants claiming to have been subjected to racist comment by supervisors, colleagues or customers. The remainder either involved people who alleged they were harassed when purchasing goods or services or complained about name calling or taunts by neighbours. Complaints of this type can be difficult to deal with since they do not fall within a specific area of the Act but if the complaints are particularly hurtful then the Commission refers them to a community constable to address.

Goods and services

There were 61 (15%) complaints about the provision of goods and services. A number related to clubs. The exception in the Act that applies to clubs is problematic as clubs can lawfully discriminate in their membership. It is questionable however whether the legislation permits the exception being used to exclude people physically for racist reasons (such as not admitting a Sikh because he wears a turban).

Other complaints involving more obvious cases of discrimination included a case of a car salesperson who indicated he was not interested in selling cars to Indians, and a bank employee who declined a cheque because the date was written in Maori.


As in previous years there was a relatively low number of complaints about accommodation – 26 or 6%. Again this is unlikely to reflect the real extent of the problem given that the tenancy tribunal can also receive complaints of discrimination.

While discrimination may be overt – for example, this year a group of flatmates who were Maori were asked about their criminal history (unlike applicants who were not Maori) or a landlord who stipulated he only wanted Asian tenants – at times it can be difficult to establish that a person was treated differently because of their race or ethnicity. For example, several people complained that a landlord appeared reluctant to provide accommodation for seasonal workers of particular ethnicities when the reason was that he was concerned about how they would pay rather than where they came from.

The Act makes it unlawful to refuse a person an interest in residential or business accommodation on the ground of race or ethnicity. In two cases, complainants relied on this in an attempt to establish that they were refused the lease of a business because they were Asian.


There were slightly more complaints about education providers than in previous years - 36 or 9% (compared to 1.7% in 2004, 5% in 2005 and 3.2% last year).

The most successful outcome in this area involved children classified as overstayers who were denied access to education because of their immigration status. Two children whose mother’s application for refugee status had been turned down, complained that they were unable to attend school as the school would have been penalised for enrolling them. Intervention by the Commission led to a change in policy. Children who are unlawfully in New Zealand will no longer be penalised and are now able to attend primary and secondary school while their situation is being determined. The change is reflected in the proposed Immigration legislation that is currently before a Select Committee.

Racial disharmony

Section 61 - exciting racial disharmony - always attracts a reasonable number of complaints but they very rarely reach the threshold at which they can be progressed under the disputes resolution process. This is because the material complained about must have the possibility of exciting hostility or contempt against a group of people on the grounds of their race. In addition the Commission must take into account the effect of the right to freedom of expression in s.14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 which contemplates people being able to make comments that others find unacceptable or unpalatable. As a result, while complainants find the comments they complain about offensive the majority are unlikely to have the effect required by the Act.

This year there were 66 complaints under this provision, of which 35 related to the comments of a councillor in the Whakatane Beacon regarding the police action in Ruatoki. A number of complaints were also made about coverage in other media. Although unpleasant and offensive, given the limitations of s.61 the Commission did not consider that the comments could be addressed as complaints under the Act (but felt it important to emphasise that this did not mean that the comments were acceptable).

Human Rights Review Tribunal and Office of Human Rights Proceedings

The Human Rights Review Tribunal heard the case of a former probation officer who claimed the Corrections Department discriminated against her because of the role that women were expected to play in powhiri. The Office of Human Rights Proceedings received ten applications for legal representation relating to race in 2007. Of those applications the Director has agreed to provide representation in one case relating to a refusal to provide access to goods and services to a Maori customer with facial moko. The Director declined to provide representation to four applicants. Decisions have not yet been released to the remaining five applicants.


Perceptions of discrimination against Asian people, migrants and refugees have continued to track downwards, but ethnicity is still a major ground of discrimination. The number of reported instances of racially motivated attacks was small, but some involved considerable violence and abuse. There were 414 race related complaints to the Human Rights Commission, with the greatest numbers relating to employment and racial harassment.

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