Editorial: Give Devoy a chance to do her new job

By Annemarie Quill

1 comment

On the news last week, Obama's call for Israeli peace, the looming Cyprus crisis and the UK general elections couldn't upstage Tiger Woods' new girlfriend or David Beckham's navy suit that he wore in China.

Only the appointment of the Pope bumped Oscar Pistorius from the front page.

The treatment of sports stars as celebrities means they are often idolised to the extent where they are forgiven anything, from adultery, to murder or even just being a bit thick.

The phenomenon explains the backlash to this week's appointment of former world squash champion Dame Susan Devoy as race relations commissioner.

Yesterday a poll on the Bay of Plenty Times website showed 63 per cent do not agree with her appointment. One poster asks: "What has she ever done well apart from play squash?"

In fact, Dame Susan has made a huge contribution to society beyond sport.

She is no stranger to high-profile roles. University of Waikato vice-chancellor Roy Crawford, who is giving her an honorary doctorate next month, says she brings her grit and skill into committee and board rooms.

Dame Susan has been chief executive of Sport Bay of Plenty, a trustee of Halberg and the Tauranga Energy Trust, a member of the Auckland District Health Board, and a board member of the Health Promotion Agency. She has been patron of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and a board member of the Sustainability Council.

An impressive CV, although markedly different to that of predecessor Joris De Bres.

Only time will tell whether Dame Susan is up for the role.

What she does need to do now is front up to her controversial comments on Waitangi Day and the wearing of burqas in New Zealand made in a column she used to write for this paper.

Although Justice Minister Judith Collins says Dame Susan will not be expressing her personal views in her new role as commissioner, her personal opinion will be implicit in decisions and actions. We have a right to know her stance on diversity.

I do not agree with her view that a Muslim woman should be asked to remove a burqa to get on a bus.

To me that suggests ignorance of why the burqa is worn.

However, I think her comments on Waitangi Day were not controversial. She said the day should respect the treaty, as well as including other cultures.

"... to recognise that New Zealand is a multicultural society, continuing to evolve as a nation of many people and not just Maori and Pakeha."

I find this statement tolerant and reflective of the view of many New Zealanders, including Maori.

It is this straight-talking reputation that will hold her in good stead. Ngati Ranginui elder Colin Bidois has no qualms in her appointment saying that he thought she would be "realistic" rather than theoretical and that she is a "people's person".

She is also the first woman in this role. I do not know Dame Susan, but I bet that as a mother of four boys, she is resourceful in spades.

She has a reputation for being a straight talker. I met Dame Susan briefly at a party. My first impression was that she doesn't suffer fools.

A poster on our website sums up her supporters: "I first met Susan as a teenager ... The thing that always impressed me about Susan was that no matter where or when, she always was open and forthright, with her comments on both sport and "life" no matter the company ... I look forward to what I believe will be a commissioner who will ignore the PC rubbish of the past few years and take and provide views that encompass all New Zealanders.

I think Dame Susan should make her first job in her new role to get to know some burqa-wearing women. Next she should disillusion Judith Collins who believes race relations in New Zealand are "fantastic".

Dame Susan is due to take up the position on April Fool's Day. I wish her well in showing her critics she is no fool and that in fact she can be a champion in bashing balls against a wall - literally and figuratively.


- Bay of Plenty Times

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