Director's Update - August 2017

The General Election is just around the corner on Saturday 23 September. The Office of Ethnic Communities encourages all eligible voters from our communities to participate in this important exercise of democracy in New Zealand.

New Zealand is an active member of the United Nations and a signatory to important international human rights conventions. Recently I was a member of the New Zealand Delegation to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination examination of New Zealand’s record on racial discrimination. This examination takes place every four year and is an opportunity for New Zealand and the international community to work together to improve human rights globally by focusing on developments at the national level. The Committee last reviewed New Zealand's race relations record in 2013.

This year’s examination was held at the United Nations in Geneva on 15 and 16 August. Our delegation was led by the Ministry of Justice and consisted of representatives from other government departments including the Office of Ethnic Communities. The Secretary for Justice delivered New Zealand’s statements on government policy and work towards race relations and social cohesion. The delegation responded to questions from the Committee, on issues relating to the Treaty of Waitangi, the social and economic conditions of Māori and Pacific peoples, migrant workers and refugees, reported cases of discrimination, and the national plan of action for human rights. The Race Relations Commissioner and non-government organisations also attended the Committee meetings.

You can find out more about the process of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

In Geneva we discussed diversity issues with members of Canada’s delegation from Justice Canada and the Cabinet Office of Ontario. Ontario recently released a strategic plan called A Better Way Forward: Ontario's Three-Year Anti-Racism Strategic Plan. These are useful opportunities to interact with others on the benefits and challenges of ethnic diversity for our respective societies.

Continuing my introductory programme of meeting communities and stakeholders around the country, I headed to Hamilton and Christchurch this month to see community leaders. It is a privilege to meet new friends and learn much more about ethnic community issues.

Early next month I will be meeting stakeholders in Wellington, where our guests will also visit He Tohu at the National Library. If you have not yet seen this magnificent exhibition, I encourage you to do so. It is an all-round sensory experience of the three key constitutional documents that helped shape our nation. He Tohu, or “the signs”, refers to the unique signatures or marks of those people whose aspirations, actions, achievements and enduring influence created our society. These tohu are sacred as they embody the mana of the people who signed the documents, and from these taonga we see that diversity has been in play in our nation from those early days and continues to define and strengthen New Zealand today.