Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Devoy rejects Whyte's call for resignation

Jamie Whyte says Dame Susan Devoy's criticism of his "racial equality" comments is interference in election year politics. He's called for her to resign. Photo / NZ Herald
Jamie Whyte says Dame Susan Devoy's criticism of his "racial equality" comments is interference in election year politics. He's called for her to resign. Photo / NZ Herald

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy has rejected Act Leader Jamie Whyte's call for her resignation saying there is still much work to do to improve race relations in this country.

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 restated his concerns that Dame Susan had misunderstood his comments and not read the speech in which he made them which called for an end to race based laws.

"Having read Mr Whyte's speech I can confirm that I stand by my statement made last week", she told the Herald this afternoon.

"I will not be taking up Mr Whyte's invitation to resign from my position as Race Relations Commissioner as there remains a lot of work to do."

She said the Human Rights Commission dealt with thousands of complaints each year and a third were about racial discrimination.

"More than 90% of all complaints are resolved by our team of mediators," she said.

She suggested Dr Whyte come to events - like the Diversity Forum later this month in Christchurch - "and talk with actual members of ethnic minority communities who will be able to explain their experiences and views on race relations in our country".

Labour MP, former Race Relations Conciliator and New Zealander of Fijian Indian origin Rajen Prasad said Dame Susan's job was to promote positive race relations behind the scenes.

Every now again she would be required to take a public stance and "be the voice of the reason when anybody, politicians included begin to say things that are not conducive to the relationship amongst our respective peoples".

"Predictably, the next thing that Jamie says and others said to me when I was there is we should close the office down. Well how convenient."

Dr Whyte yesterday said he was concerned that Dame Susan was unaware of the efforts by countries elsewhere to remove race based laws from their statute books.

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".

"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."

Dr 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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