“Annette Sykes is a stupid person” says Judith Collins



I might just be the last person left on the planet to get a blog out about Minister Judith Collins’ absurd appointment of Susan Devoy to the post of Race Relations Commissioner. It’s okay. Bryce Edwards was never going to include me in his weekly political roundup anyway. Plus it means I can be clever and not link to anything because you have read it all. Truth up front. I left the Human Rights Commission in December 2012 after a ten year career as an Advisor. I was one of the coalface people in the paddock. The previous Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres is a friend and I was privileged to be a part of his work. It took Minister Judith Collins calling Annette Sykes “a stupid person” in a radio interview for me to dig deep and find this blog festering inside me.

So I came up with a list of what actually is STUPID:
-a Race Relations Commissioner who cannot articulate a view on race relations. I listened to Duncan Garner’s interview where he was trying to get blood out of a stone in soliciting some Commissioner sounding answers from Ms Devoy. I wondered what questions, if any, Ms Devoy was asked in the selection process. The Minister is obviously gunning for the ‘untainted and refreshing’ perception but this is just incompetence slapping skill, experience, and vision straight in the face.

-a Race Relations Commissioner thinking she can do “what’s good for all New Zealanders” (from Garners interview again). This is at best clumsily worded and wildly naïve and at worst blatantly dangerous. Who are the “all New Zealanders” she wants to do good for? Does she have any idea of the complex bridge building work that lays before her that actually requires some New Zealanders to be uncomfortably but cleverly dislodged?

-a Race Relations Commissioner who “can’t really say at this stage” whether people have any genuine grievances in this country (Garner interview). Coming in to this role, I would expect the Commissioner to already have an understanding of basic discrimination and racism in this country. If she has to scramble to agree with this at a basic level then how will she cope with uncovering the complex structural and systemic racism that pervades and impacts on too many and in effect pulls our whole society down?

-that Ms Devoy’s apparent common sense approach and strong moral compass are the big (only?) selling points of her appointment. Let us just slide the other requirements of the job description into the wasteland and celebrate that she is a pretty average New Zealander. This is the government’s insidious attempt to undermine not just this position, but a progressive commitment to real harmonious race relations by downplaying the complexity of what is needed in this role.

-the ‘one small step for woman, one giant step for feminism’ card! I have said before that a Māori whakapapa does not guarantee Māori advocacy. The same can be said for token placements of women into roles for the purpose of upholding the patriarchal views of the current government.

-the sneaky move that seeks to pre-empt the Human Rights Amendment Bill currently before parliament. The Bill proposes to water down the focus Race Relations Commissioner role and instead have generic Commissioner positions. The United Nations have specifically cautioned us against this. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) see a need for the Office of the Race Relations Commissioner to maintain its visibility and accessibility in the State party. The CERD Committee goes further to say that “any change effected by this amendment guarantee the independence of the Office of the Race Relations Commissioner to undertake its mandate effectively.” Ms Devoy has already articulated that gender, disability, employment or race issues are ‘not that dissimilar’. Her appointment is a cheeky move to change the Commission makeup before the Bill has even been debated rigorously and a bit of an ‘up yours’ to the UN.

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-that Ms Devoy states gender, disability, employment or race issues to be “not that dissimilar”. Does she mean “not that dissimilar” in terms of the deeply rooted and complex intersectorial nature and indivisibility of human rights issues that cross and weave through issues of gender, disability, employment, race and so forth? Or does she mean “can’t be that complicated”?

-Minister Judith Collins appointing Dame Susan Devoy

For all that on the stupid list, I will not eat my words if in five years Ms Devoy comes up with something akin to resolving the issue of who owns Jerusalem. This appointment is a powerful message in the wrong direction. So many of the current fundamental political issues we are wrestling with today rely on a collective and true understanding of our colonial history and the ongoing impact this has had on our whole nation. The potential for our country to be a world leader in harmonious race relations can be hindered by ignorant and uneducated views similar to those so far uttered by Ms Devoy and certainly those right wing commentators who are bidding for her. The saddest thing is that we have an abundance of people who have given their lives to building bridges between groups and who have committed their learning and living to a true understanding of race relations. These people have the visions, the leadership, the skill and the experience to be able to do some fine work in encouraging more of us to get along and celebrate who we are. Such a shame. Finally, Annette Sykes does not stand alone Minister. Not for a second. I will close with the words of my 18 year old daughter, who has benefitted from ten years of her mother being a part of the Human Rights Commission.

“Oh that sports chic? How the hell is she gonna do Joris’ job mum?!”


  1. The blogosphere should have written more around the Human Rights Amendment Bill.

    I’ve tried to complain to the Human Rights commission regarding an issue well within their durisdiction. They told me that they didn’t have the resources to investigate, and would only do so if more people complained. Once the Commissioners are melded together then we will have even less oversight than what we currently have, which is patchy at best.

  2. Absolutely correct, yours will not be the last blog and what you’ve said and the way that yousaid it was superb…

  3. This appointment is just Judith Collins and her rabid supporters giving us the finger. I can think of several stupid people involved in this, but Annette Sykes is not one of them.

  4. Well I guess if Judith Collins is so stupid , then it does nt say much for the good people of papakura who gave her what, 15000 vote majority? Or is it 20,000 majority?

  5. I’ve said it before and will repeat it again; this appointment will come back and bite the Nats firmly on their Tory-blue backsides. Putting someone like Devoy into a complex role like this is begginbg for trouble further down the road.

    What really surprises me is that none of the Nat’s taxpayer funded political advisors saw fit to counsel against such an unwise appointment. Someone must known that this is an embarressment waiting to explode in the Nat’s faces.

    As for Ms Devoy – gods help her. She has no clue what’s she’s let herself in for.

    • Alternatively, it was intentional and sanctioned, because it will enable racist dogwhistling for the whole of Devoy’s term. Creating division and conflict suits NACT.

    • Taxpayer funded political advisers I am sure will have advised. In the end the Minister rules. Appalling decision.

  6. Does Collins’ remark get more ad hominem (or in this case ad feminem) than this?

    The sad fact is that women can be just as racist as men. You only have to look at hardline Tea Partiers like Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter. Although of course, they’ll always deny being racist, they’ll jsut repackage themselves as ‘defending Western civilisation’.

    • That’s actually quite true, of course women can be just as racist as men. What is really stupid about that statement is the idea that that wouldn’t be assumed to be the case or would need pointing out.
      Hitler had a wife who loved supported and thought the world of him and everything he did.
      After the WWII the upper class women of Germany were marched through Auschwitz in their stoles and furs to see what the regime they had supported and lived high on the the hog under had been up to.
      Women, though not historically in the overt driving seat, have supported, propagated the views of, and enjoyed the fruits of, every oppressive regime in history.
      It is ridiculous that they would attempt to excuse themselves from histories horrors on the basis of their gender.
      Which is of course intellectually feeble.

  7. The sad thing about shit like this is that you have people actually getting the education and training necessary for a complex and difficult role like that, and they’re getting told “Good luck finding a job.”

  8. These sort of appointments are just a distraction, they are there to suck up the energy and potential out of us. Keep the people arguing and divided, all part of the greater control matrix.
    Ghandi – Be the change you want to see in others.

    Some commissioner or another is not going to change society. People only have power if you give it to them through your participation and your attention.

    Next time the new commissioner has something to say, the reporters should just put their notes away, turn cameras off and laugh at her. You can’t take these sort of people seriously, they are part of the past.

    Live here in the now, life only happens now, every waking moment is only right now. The past is only a subjective memory and the future is merely and expectation of what might or might not be in the now. It’s all now.

  9. We can’t possibly have any race based resolution of issues which hark back to our “colonial history” until ALL race based legislation is removed

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