Race Relations Commissioner out of her depth?


devoy vs Desmond TutuWhat does constitute a race relations issue worth commenting on these days?

Apparently the insulting remarks from visiting Dane MP Marie Krarup do not. The following media sensationalism which incited further vilification of Māori culture and heritage seemingly also does not. Then the Conservative Party Leader Colin Craig jumping on the insult bandwagon again failed to drum up any leadership from Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy.

There has been booming silence where there should have been some input from her given the damaging national conversation that was taking place. It is not that we should suppress what people think and say. It is about acknowledging that the media platform being used to debate the issues was destructive and without resolution. This approach negatively impacts on how we try to get along with each other. The former Race Relations Commissioner understood this about the media and as was the responsibility mandated to him, he would call the media to account and would build other healthier ways of engaging on these issues.

That mandate of the over $200k role of the Race Relations Commissioner is quite clear. At the very least the New Zealand public should expect that Devoy fronts up:
(a) to lead discussions of the Commission in relation to matters of race relations
(b) to provide advice and leadership on matters of race relation arising in the course of activities undertaken in the performance of the Commission’s functions, both when engaging in those activities and otherwise when consulted. (Section 15 Human Rights Act 1993)

These points are only the tip of the iceberg expectations that go with her role but on those alone she has failed miserably. At a time when we sorely need our highly paid and experienced human rights advocates to offer some true race relations work and visionary statements, there has been nothing.

Former Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres on many similar occasions displayed some clear leadership, balance and insight and in good time. For example here he was doing his job around Paul Holmes’ disparaging article last year on Waitangi Day… “The column was crudely expressed and included stereotypes many would have found offensive. For better or worse Paul Holmes is a key influencer of public opinion. I would hope that Mr Holmes realises that this uncommon privilege comes with the responsibility to not denigrate a whole sector of society.”

The key competencies outlined for the role require that the Race Relations Commissioner should also have:
 -The ability to stimulate interest in, promote understanding of, and encourage action on race relations issues.
– The ability to interact effectively with the media to promote harmonious race relations.

Again here was an opportunity to even just gently dip her toes in her role and live up to those competencies. As Race Relations Commissioner the media are Devoy’s for the picking. With some vicious exchanges unleashed by Krarup’s comments a reasoned response would have been a great circuit break to the vitriol. Many New Zealanders were angered by the attack on an identity that the whole country should be proud of. Devoy could have offered some hope that she has an inkling of what to do in that office.

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Instead her avoidance of issues makes it clear she cannot fulfill her duties to any standard let alone a $200k one. Along with a generous salary unlike any on the job training allowance we have ever seen – I am aware of how much up-skilling and educating she will need because of the obvious gap in her skills, knowledge and experience. This training will either come from the already skilled and experienced but lower paid staff around her OR she will need external training. Either way it is all an extra cost to this whole sham of an appointment.

Imagine a Race Relations Commissioner who could actually comment on any wave of overt racism happening in our media. The job of sorting out our chaotic race relations can never fall on the shoulders of any one organisation let alone a single Commissioner. However there is room to inspire in the doom of such ugly dialogue. One way to instill some balance is to affirm the positive bridge-building work that is happening in communities and across organisations to promote diversity. This could also be a time to reflect on those families raising strong, secure children who can embrace difference and have a healthy sense of belonging to Aotearoa. I do not want my children to grow up in a country that even tolerates such divisive attitudes like those of the racist supporters who love Devoy’s inaction right now, let alone encourages it under the guise of freedom of speech. It will be my failure if my children grow up needing to attack any group of people simply because their culture is different. I will be equally disappointed if my children stand by and let it happen to anyone else. The Race Relations Commissioner would do well do to exercise her freedom of speech in a more invigorating way than we have seen from others. In the meantime, how about we drop her salary to a fairer training allowance?

The New Zealand Herald on Saturday 13 April will feature an article on a poetry collection called Susan Stand Down. The poems come from a growing number of New Zealanders who recognised Minister Judith Collins’ appointment for the lame decision it is from the start. Ordinary people from all walks of life, some who have never written poetry in their life, have proactively sought to add their creative voice to this innovative protest. There are nearly 60 stunning pieces of poetry on a tumblr blog site and they keep rolling in. Please visit the tumblr site and keep an eye out for the Herald piece on it that will feature in the Arts and Culture column.

Step down Susan Devoy.


  1. Well said Marama.

    “As Race Relations Commissioner the media are Devoy’s for the picking”

    Obviously, there is a vacuum where a wise voice should be. Is there an opportunity here to establish an unofficial role and appoint a suitable person to it? We’d need a different title: maybe revert to the old name: Race Relations Conciliator. The appointee could then just start doing the job actively via the media and leave poor old Susan standing on the sidelines. Lets see if she’d have the nerve to stay silently collecting her salary in the face of someone else actually doing her job

    I for one would be happy to contribute a few $/week to support such a role.

  2. Thank you Marama for an excellent article. Its great to see there is a movement forming: “Susan Stand Down”. She really really does need to accept that she is completely inappropriate and unprepared for such an important leadership role.

    One old anti Thatcher song we’ve been playing this week in our house as an acknowledgment of Thatcher’s death is “Stand down Margaret” by The Beat. I’d like to dedicate this song to Susan Devoy and replace the name Margaret with Susan.


    • Thanks Rosie. To be honest, I feel that she is depleting her own dignity by staying on in the role and it looks and feels very money hungry. Especially if we consider her musings from the 1980’s around sporting boycotts to Apartheid South Africa – she totally was considering it from a financial aspect. Goes to her priorities really.

  3. I’m picking Susan Devoy will be New Zealand’s quietest Race Relations Conciliator ever. She’s (voluntarily) given herself the option of either a rock and a hard place.

    • I’d be an actual Race Relations Commissioner for a lot less than $200k. $50k is a pretty good salary, though since it’s an important position you could maybe argue it up to a max of $100k (I would want other inflated salaries to be brought down to match, of course).

  4. Dame Susanne Devoy WILL be a fantastic rrc as long as she sticks to her guns and brings balance in to the role as opposed to previous sell outs like the imbecile Boris de whats-his-face! Fancy him (as with this blog author) letting Hone’s comments fly about white mofos (as only one example of many) without a peep or even a mention, yet when someone has an honest opinion about maori cultural fatigue, and incessant neo-tribalism being shoved in your face, the rcc is expected to jump up and down and do whatever they’re supposed to do (frown upon it I assume?)! The author of, and commentators on, this blog topic really need a dose of reality and realise that the rcc is not there purely for maori advocacy! Go Susanne, Go Equal Race Relations, and Scape that repugnant Waitangi day kerfuffal… it’s just pathetic!

    • So … you don’t know the previous Race Relations Commissioner’s name, but you do know absolutely that he “let Home’s comments fly”? Gosh, you sound well-informed.

      • That is the view of a wide section on those on the right. Perception is important when it comes to ascertaining if these roles are unbiased. They are meant to represent all New Zealanders not just those on the left of the political spectrum.

          • Yes and they are meant to do it in a non-partisan manner. If they are perceived to be biased then they will lose their moral authority. This is what happened with De Bres. People on the right regarded him as a joke.

            Just as you criticised the lack of real response around the recent Danish politician’s comments so too were the right equally frustrated with De Bres handling of Harawira’s comments.

          • Oh Gos you terminal fool.

            The RCC is supposed to be biased against racism. That’s the job.

            If it turns out in practice that by doing that right wingers ‘perceive’ that the office is biased against them, then that says more about right wingers than it does about the office.

            The previous RCC didn’t ignore Hone’s comments, he didn’t, as Devoy did about the Danish Pollie and locals who jumped on her bandwagon, refuse to comment. That’s a flat out false equivalence.

            That right wingers think he said nothing about Hone isn’t an example of the RCCs bias, it’s a classic example of confirmation bias from righties, and projection about their own racism.

            If right wingers don’t want the RCC to be ‘biased’ against them, they should sort out their racism. there is nothing intrinsically racist about being rightwing is there?

  5. Race relations along with all the other things this energy/resource rich, human friendly climate ‘moment’ has aloud, has come to an end.
    As we plunge down the depletion cliff, things are going to get a whole lot worse, and the sudden plunge could happen any day, with something like 3 weeks at best of transport fuel on shore, allowing for government lag, we could be rationing fuel 2 weeks from any moment.
    We could be facing food riots inside of any month.
    So yeah that was as good as it gets.

  6. The problem here is that under De Bres a number of people regarded the role as becoming partisan (as evidenced by his lack of substantive action love Hope Harawira). This has led to the situation we are currently in. In short the role has become a joke.

    • Ha. The irony is that after the massive derailing you put into one of my posts, demanding “the raw data”, you use the word “evidenced” but don’t actually provide any citation, either of the lack of action, or the ability of the RRC to take “substantive action”.

      • I’m sorry but where have I stated anything is a hard fact rather than perhaps my opinion. You can come back with an objection like this where I state something along the lines of “Three out of every four NZ’s thought Hone Harawira was making Racist claims- Fact”.

    • Harawira used intemperate language in a private email. Joris De Bres had no right to take any action, but he did publicly express his distaste for Harawira’s language.

      That you cannot or will not understand that is due to a fundamental lack of seriousness on your part.

      • To try and argue that the previous De Bres’ handling of the Harawira complaints was even handed is ignoring reality.

        To argue that the comments were private misses the fact that Harawira told the person he made the comments to to go to the media with them. In short he allowed them to become public.

        Many people on the right regarded De Bres as a joke. Now you can argue that this doesn’t matter but if you want a role like this and want people to respect it then it has to be seen by all to be even handed. That is the reason Devoy’s appointment is a joke as was De Bres.

        The role has been effectively killed off by the views and actions of the current and previous person to hold the role.

  7. That we have come so far as a country in recognising and respecting other cultures is not an excuse to let this slip and lose what we have achieved over the last few decades. We are in very trying times at the moment and the thing I am noticing the most is that people are turning against other people and usually that entails denigrating someone that is different to themselves. To make themselves feel better there seems to be a need to put others down and nowhere more evident than on the various sites where people voice their thoughts and opinions – usually under the guise of a fake name/nom de plume. It is imperative that we have a Commissioner who is proactive in stepping in and tempering situations in such a way as it reduces opportunities for these mostly anonymous posters to vent and spread their ugly thoughts. To lead by example and demonstrate such behaviour, thoughts or actions as not being conducive to a civilised and happy society. If left unchecked these people have an ability to cause a groundswell of discontent which could ultimately lead to civil unrest. I don’t see this current Commissioner having the abilities to do this, certainly not by her track record of previous thoughts and actions and most certainly not in the last week when it would have been very comforting to know that this person is seen to be doing their job. We are not only bicultural, we are now multicultural and everyone needs to feel safe and secure in their environment. I don’t want the last 30-40 years of hard work being undone just because someone is not qualified for the role…my country and it’s people are far too important for that. Please admit you are out of your depth Susan and step down for the sake of everyone, yourself and your reputation included.

  8. Hey, I am Susan Devoid, my trade is carpet laying race relations reconsilltator.

    I believe in laying carpet and carp it. I like a sweeper too, and I have a nifty, thrifty little car, that sweeps away swiftly under sight of TV3 and Campbell Live or less “live” cameras.

    I am onto it, I have been chosen “independentallly” for sure.

    I like my job, I stand in for it, but gimme a brake.

    I need to focus, and refocus, as I am wondering, who am I now. I am not Maori, or am I, I am not Pacifica, or am I, I am not Asian, or am I, I am maybe also not European, not the real one, as I was dropped outoffa womb down unda. So where am I, who am I, and whattamy gooona doo now?

    I must better look for a job overseas, because this appintment is getting too a big for me. I am outta here, good bye, your conciliator and former squashy.

    Best wishes


    • These poems are truly fantastic. The ordinary word is completely transformed and given power through the creative process. These words are evocative and moving. Well done you wonderful collective of writers!

  9. A joint statement was issued by the HRC and Race Relations Commissioner two days ago but it appears to have been conveniently overlooked. It’s so much easier to whine, play the race card and write inane comments masquerading as poetry isnt it?

    “Commission’s response to Danish politician’s comments
    The Commission and the Race Relations Commissioner agree that the comments reportedly made by a visiting Danish politician about a pōwhiri where she was present, are insensitive and insulting and show a deep misunderstanding of tikanga Māori.

    The Commission also notes that people are free to make remarks that others find controversial or unpopular. The price of freedom of speech is that we sometimes have to listen to views that we do not agree with.”


    • Um that comment is a total fob off and I saw that reply before most people and my article is a response to that. Freedom of speech – where is hers? John, don’t come in here thinking I don’t know what she is and isn’t saying. I’m there long before you are, thanks.

    • Wish I could responded so timely and say so little – give me the money and I will write even less.

      “Danish nazi in all probability slagged of the natives to New Zealand and showed her lack of ability to read a briefing.

      She is within her rights to show show she can’t read, and say what she likes because she is defending the freedom of idiots in politics everywhere to be able to flaunt self-righteousness”

      I’ll take a check

          • That is exactly the problem here. People on the right regarded what he did there exactly the same as what you regard the recent action made by the Commission about the Danish politician. You seem to believe the Commission is not doing it’s job now. Other people think it wasn’t doing it’s job back then. This is why the role is fundamentally flawed now. It is far too partisan to be effective.

  10. Marama doesn’t seem to have experienced, really. She should look at the antisemitism of nazi Germany, the racism of Balkan states, Rwanda and other African racism, Apartheid, the racism of the USA up until comparatively recent times. Racism derives from a conviction that the denigrated race is inferior in its humanity. The Danish politician criticized the New Zealand fetish with old Maori rituals. Some of these do seem rather aggressive to me, too. Angry facial grimaces and tongues pointed out are scary when done by grown men brandishing weapons. This is basic psychological response, not racism.

  11. I do not accept Susan as our RRC. If I saw a women with wearing a burhka my curiosity would overcome me and I would have many questions for her. If I was there when the ‘gentlemen’ said Maori women should be sterilized I would wonder at his upbringing. If I was there at the service station made the man pay before getting gas I would hang my head in shame. My family is a League of Nations and we were taught to embrace the differences in them. We need a RRC that is qualified to do the job competently but more importantly to have a heart.
    To Gosman do you have anybody other than Hone Harawira as an example? Because I just gave you 3. I am not left or right I am human. I also think that powhiri should be restricted to the Marae because the people receiving this honor no longer deserve it. The powhiri is only scary and in your face or grotesque if you don’t understand it, if ‘real kiwis’ have not bothered to find out the meaning behind this beautiful way of welcoming manuhiri then this is their loss, and guess what we have had ‘real kiwis ‘ ideology SHOVED down our throats for 173 years.

  12. You guys would do well to understand that Race Relations Commissioner does not mean Maori Privilege Enforcer.

    There is more than one race in this country whose feelings need to be considered by the person hired by taxpayers to keep a watching brief on race relations.

    That has never been done before. (Certainly not by the the pro-Maori Marxist Joris de Bres.)

    There is a fact that you would do well to remember…

    Most New Zealanders believe that all New Zealanders are equal.

    Most New Zealanders believe that all New Zealanders should have the same rights, obey the same law, vote on the same roll, and have their taxes spent helping those in need because of their need, not because of their race.

    Again and again, poll results echo this message.

    93% of Dominion Post readers supported Don Brash’s Orewa speech.

    81% of stuff readers said they did not want to change the names of the North and South Islands.

    81% of 40,000 Close Up viewers spent their own money voting No to the question “Do Maori have a special place in New Zealand?”

    80% of the citizens of Wanganui said they did not want an ‘h’ in their city’s name.

    80% of Waikato District residents voted No to Maori wards.

    79% of Nelson residents did the same.

    53% of NBR readers have just said they would consider voting for a One Law For All party.

    Most New Zealanders are sick and tired of indulging the boorish, lying overgrown teenage descendants of the 1860s Maori rebels.

    Those families were not representative of the Maori people then, and they’re not representative of them now.

    New Zealand is a democracy, and in a democracy, given the admittedly unsatisfactory choice between the tyranny of the majority and the tyranny of the minority, the majority rightly prevails.

    And the majority of New Zealanders are anything but tyrannical. We are a compassionate, tolerant people.

    Most of the 80% who oppose the endless indulgence of radical Maori are anything but racist. They believe in the fair settlement of legitimate grievances.

    But they are also becoming aware that many of the Treaty of Waitangi claims have been, at best, one-eyed, and, at worst, fabricated. That doesn’t sit so well with fair-minded Kiwis.

    The Treatygate con needs to be exposed, and I’m doing my best to expose it. (See http://www.treatygate.org.nz)

    And I hope Dame Susan Devoy will pay attention to this aspect of race relations too.

    • (Yawn)…… of course the “majority” dont want this Maori thing or that Maori thing….. but isnt it ironic that that the treaty was signed by a majority at the time whose rights and interests were guaranteed.
      What are you afraid of? That the treaty might be honoured?
      And whats that about the NBR survey??? Is it meant to illustrate your point?How many Maori read the NBR?
      Your tired, uninformed racist rant does nothing for any intelligent discussion, its just Maori-bashing BS.

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