Jacoby Poulain: Institutional racism exists in NZ

By Jacoby Poulain

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The topic of racism is rife in New Zealand and everywhere the issue is demanding attention.

Over the past week I have sat in on presentations by Dr Ranginui Walker who is an academic professor, former Waitangi tribunal member, constitutional review panel member and head of Auckland University Maori Studies, Margaret Mutu, an academic professor of Auckland University and Russell Wills, New Zealand's Children's Commissioner.

All presented disparaging figures of the state of Maoridom but explained that things could and should be done by the Government to rectify the situation.

A fortnight ago Te Ururoa Flavell, Maori Party MP, spoke out about the disproportionate treatment of Maori in the justice system, claiming institutional racism as a prime reason for these statistics.

Institutional or structural racism is a policy, practices or system of government based upon or fostering a belief that inherent differences between races determine cultural or individual achievement. It usually involves the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others - it's discrimination.

"The fact that many New Zealanders would not consider disproportionate treatment of Maori in the New Zealand justice system as anything to worry about makes institutional racism so insidious," says Flavell.

Margaret Mutu's statistics were particularly alarming in relation to the justice system. Although Maori only comprise 15 per cent of the population they make up approximately 51 per cent of the male and 61 per cent of the female prison population.

Thirty years ago, it was identified in a pivotal report by lawyer Moana Jackson that institutionalised practices exist that disadvantage Maori in the New Zealand justice system. Despite this, this week on the Native Affairs show, MP's Metiria Turei and Pita Sharples said institutional or systemic racism is only now beginning to be recognised and acknowledged. Many, such as Minister Anne Tolley according to show commentators, still reject the notion that it exists. Others however, such as Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy, are more apt to accept the proposition.

Television show The Vote will hold a debate tonight on the question "Is New Zealand a racist country?" The Vote is a competitive current affairs show, entertaining in nature however also informative and provides you the opportunity to have your say on the matter.

I believe Maori are more likely to feature in the criminal system and are individually responsible. However so should there also be community responsibility. Maori have been unjustly dispossessed of their land in the past. This is not a mere emotive claim but, rather, a factual finding in many cases brought before the Waitangi Tribunal and an agreed and accepted fact in many treaty settlements currently in front of our House of Parliament. Many Maori are still grappling with the effects of such social, economic and spiritual disposition, disorientation and upheaval. Poverty has entered the family lines and the effects are still being felt, endured and passed through the generations.

I do also believe institutional racism exists in New Zealand which perpetuates and populates Maori's prevalence in the system due to bias in perceptions, treatment, arrests, prosecutions and sentences. It is encouraging therefore to see the UN urge New Zealand to intensify efforts to reduce racism in the criminal justice system.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has asked the New Zealand Government to provide comprehensive data in its next periodic report on progress made to address this phenomenon.

Simply building more prisons or initiating ambulance at the bottom of the cliff approaches is increasingly unacceptable and unjust

Jacoby Poulain is a Hastings District Council Flaxmere Ward councillor.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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