Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Dame Susan's popularity defies critics

Race Relations Commissioner has public’s seal of approval.
Dame Susan Devoy says her job is not a popularity contest. Photo / Dean Purcell
Dame Susan Devoy says her job is not a popularity contest. Photo / Dean Purcell

Dame Susan Devoy has been given a pass mark for her work as Race Relations Commissioner in a new poll, and has also won over some of her initial critics.

A Herald-DigiPoll survey asked people to rate Dame Susan's performance, and 58 per cent approved of her handling of the role.

Nearly a third of respondents said she had done a "satisfactory" job and 17 per cent said her performance was "good". Just 16 per cent said the former squash star had done a "poor" job in her two-and-a-half year tenure at the Human Rights Commission.

Responding to the poll, Dame Susan said the result was interesting but her job was not a popularity contest.

"No matter what I do or say, some people will remain opposed to me and the work I am doing with our team at the Human Rights Commission. I just hope that they will take on the broader messages and think about the issues.

"New Zealanders don't like being told what to do so that's why we try to focus on highlighting real-life incidents and encouraging Kiwis to think about the issue and to do the right thing."

She said she truly believed New Zealanders were fair-minded people, but race relations was a work in progress and Kiwis had to keep challenging themselves to be better people.

"It's not something we can rest back on our laurels over."

Some questioned Dame Susan's appointment in 2013, highlighting her lack of experience and past statements on Treaty of Waitangi issues.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei was one of those critics. She said that while Dame Susan had been too soft on racism issues at first, she was now doing a good job and holding people to account.

Mrs Turei praised the commissioner's attempts to highlight an undercurrent of racism in New Zealand - "an important statement to make clearly as many people do not see if they are not directly affected".

Over the past year, Dame Susan has been vocal about increasing the refugee quota and supporting refugees. She also took the Labour Party to task over its claim people with Chinese-sounding names were contributing to higher house prices.

Dame Susan also caused a minor controversy last month when she supported a migrant support group's policy of using more inclusive, non-religious Christmas greetings, which prompted some to accuse her of banning the word Christmas.

Mrs Turei said this was "completely overblown" and was an example of "the intolerance to difference" which Dame Susan had been speaking out against.

Dame Susan's performance rating had improved since a similar poll in 2013, in which nearly a quarter of people said she was not suitable for the job.

- NZ Herald

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