Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Minister defends Dame Susan Devoy's new role

Dame Susan Devoy concedes she has little experience in human rights, and says New Zealand's race relations are not perfect.  Photo / APN
Dame Susan Devoy concedes she has little experience in human rights, and says New Zealand's race relations are not perfect. Photo / APN

Justice Minister Judith Collins has defended new Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy amid calls for her resignation over past comments on Waitangi Day and the wearing of burqas.

A day after Dame Susan was appointed to the role, her suitability was questioned because of opinion pieces she had written - one which criticised New Zealand's national day and another which described the wearing of burqas in New Zealand as "disconcerting".

Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell questioned Mrs Collins' appointment in Parliament this afternoon. He noted that Dame Susan had "already courted controversy with her views".

Mana Party President Annette Sykes demanded that she stand down because she was not fit for the role.

In a statement, she said: "It's so disturbing that someone with a clearly expressed, racist viewpoint can be appointed to a job that's about providing independent leadership and advice on race relations, including public education on the Treaty of Waitangi," Ms Sykes said.

She argued that Dame Susan failed to meet criteria for the job which included knowledge of the Treaty of Waitangi and understanding of the issues which affected indigenous people.

Dame Susan wrote a column in the Bay of Plenty Times which criticised the way that Waitangi Day had been "marred" by protest.

She expressed her frustration that New Zealand's national holiday was not a day of celebration.

In a separate column, she described burqas as "disconcerting" after witnesseing an Auckland bus driver disallowing a woman from getting on board because she would not remove her burqa to be identified.

"Muslim women need to respect the need to sometimes de-robe in order to allow identification while New Zealanders should respect the personal choice made by these women without being ignorant and abusive," she said.

"I wouldn't want to see us legislate the ban of the burqa as much as I find them disconcerting."

Mrs Collins said the comments were made before Dame Susan became commissioner, and she would not be as free to express her personal views in her new role.

She added: "The Far Left does not have a monopoly on caring about race relations and Dame Susan Devoy is a very sensible and balanced person.

"We're allowed in this country to have views that have not been politically sanitised and what's wrong with that?"

The minister added that she believed race relations in New Zealand were "fantastic", pointing to a report by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which placed New Zealand ahead of most countries.

New Zealand First MP Richard Prosser, who was widely criticised for his comments on Muslims last month, said he felt Dame Susan was a "superb" candidate for the commissioner role.

"She's a fresh face - it's good to have a woman in the job."

- NZ Herald

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