Former Gisborne mayor Meng Foon has been appointed Race Relations Commissioner.

He takes over from Dame Susan Devoy, who left the role in June last year after major changes at the Human Rights Commission.

The position has been vacant for more than a year because of legal reasons, including an unsuccessful candidate suing the Government over the selection process.

In a statement this morning, Justice Minister Andrew Little said Foon had an outstanding record as a relationship builder.


He said Foon walked comfortably in the Pākehā world, the Māori world, the Chinese community and other communities making up New Zealand.

"This is an exciting appointment to a role that presents enormous challenges but tremendous possibilities."

Foon was first elected onto the Gisborne District Council in 1995 and became mayor in 2001. He is one of a handful of people of Chinese descent to have become a mayor in New Zealand.

As of 2019, he is still the only mayor in New Zealand who is fluent in te reo.

Speaking to Newstalk ZB this morning, Foon said New Zealand was a great country but there was still work to do on race issues.

He said the Christchurch mosque attacks raised awareness about racism but also brought out a lot of love and support for the Muslim community.

However, he said there were obviously a few issues still to iron out in the areas of racism in New Zealand.

He added that if he could continue the work of past Race Relations Commissioners, the country would be in good stead for the future.


"I acknowledge there is a lot of hard work in front of us. I am looking forward to working with my fellow commissioners, commission staff and the diverse communities that make up this country to get that work done," Foon said in a statement this morning.

Chief Human Rights commissioner Paul Hunt said he was thrilled to have someone of Foon's experience joining the commission.

"We are all looking forward to working with Meng to help create the fairer, more harmonious society so many people have been calling for, particularly in the wake of the terrible events in Christchurch."

Little said it was regrettable that the appointment of the Race Relations Commissioner had been delayed for so long.

At the end of last year, an unsuccessful applicant in an earlier round sought an injunction to stop the appointment process.

When that did not succeed, the same person sought judicial review of the process earlier this year, Little said.

Foon's appointment was finalised on May 1 this year and the Governor-General accepted the appointment this week.

"It has been a long wait but I am confident this is an excellent appointment," Little said.