Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Act's Whyte suggests Fiji as model for ending NZ race laws

ACT Party Leader Jamie Whyte. Photo / Dean Purcell
ACT Party Leader Jamie Whyte. Photo / Dean Purcell

Act Leader Jamie Whyte has suggested Fiji as a model for a rejig of race based laws in this country in an open letter to Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy.

Dr Whyte last week called on Dame Susan to resign after she labelled his comparison of Maori to pre-revolutionary French aristocracy "grotesque and inflammatory".

This morning he said that other than his concerns that Dame Susan had misunderstood his comments and not read his speech, "I am also concerned that she is unaware of the efforts by countries elsewhere to remove race based laws from their statute books".

"Ms Devoy may not know that the process of removing race from the laws of a country is actively underway in other countries. These countries are concerned by the divisions and injustice caused by laws based on race."

Those countries included Sweden, France and also Fiji, which "removed the concept of race and racial privilege from law in their new constitution in 2012," Dr Whyte said.

"As a result, race-based electoral rolls and race-based seat quotas were eliminated. Under the new system, all Fiji citizens are now called "Fijians", irrespective of their origin, and the use of race and ethnicity to define communalism and privilege, is no longer lawful."

But Labour MP, former Race Relations Conciliator and New Zealander of Fijian Indian origins Rajen Prasad said that if Dr Whyte thought emulating Fiji was the way to improve New Zealand's race relations he was on the wrong track.

"If he wants to go and have a look at the Fijian context and say we should adopt that, the Fijian context has had four military coups and 25 years plus of military regimes. Are they blaming all of that on race based politics?

"Jamie has to look at the context of a particular country, its history, its contemporary situation and where the country is going. When we look at some of our policies that around the treaty and our indigenous people that is a response to the effects of colonisation, land confiscation and underperformance of the indigenous people in a whole ranges of statistics as a result of that.

"In that context and keeping in mind that New Zealand was established by treaty, then there are some matters that come out of that that have to be addressed.''

Dr Whyte's comments on race based laws have sparked controversy and prompted the resignation of Act board member and Dunedin North candidate Guy McCallum who believed they were a calculated "stunt'' to revive Act's flagging poll ratings.

- NZ Herald

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