Last year, the Government promised the United Nations it would develop a national strategy to address racial discrimination and racism.
The problem is, nobody knows about it, or what the Government is going to do.
Ministers are yet to announce publicly what a national strategy might look like.
AUT senior lecturer Dr Heather Came is organising one of the largest anti-racism and decolonisation campaigns in New Zealand.
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Is New Zealand a racist country? “Yes,” she said. “You can see racism across our public sector, in our institutions, in school curriculums, playgrounds, on the streets.”
Came had a stark warning about the Christchurch mosque attacks in 2019. “Until we address the underbelly of racism and white supremacy in New Zealand, at any time it could happen again.”
She said the Government needs to act. “What we need is a national action plan to end racism in all of its forms, including institutional racism and everyday racism,” she said.
The Race Relations Day on March 21, Tiriti-based futures + Anti-racism 2020, includes webinars focused on topics such as how to deal with your racist uncle, Islamophobia, white privilege, spikes in racism during a crisis and how racism affects health.
Came said it’s a chance to listen to one another and to learn. “Hopefully, people will be moved to act to challenge racism when they encounter it,” she said.
Came has focused her academic career on institutional racism for more than a decade. She took a case to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2017, with a group of campaigners to highlight several issues, including racism.
The committee made a raft of recommendations.
Its first concern was the lack of a national action plan on racism. It identified an accelerated pace of demographic changes in New Zealand’s population and a plan was needed to deal with it.
Commissioner Meng Foon said the Human Rights Commission, various United Nations bodies and community groups have been calling for anti-racism action from the Government for years.
He backs a national action plan on racism and is keen to take a leadership role to work with others.
“Let’s not put these actions off any longer. Remember, we don’t need to wait for a final plan to be developed, adopted and implemented by the government, before we act,” Foon said.
“All people should and must take action against racism in all its forms – now. Since the Government and other parties are already working on initiatives, I expect those activities will be rolled into and reflected in a final plan.”
Ethnic Communities Minister Jenny Salesa said the Government has been listening to ethnic communities, Māori and Pasifika, who have raised issues of discrimination and racism to be addressed as a society. “Our Government takes combating racism very seriously,” Salesa said.
She said public services and schools are being transformed to be more culturally aware and responsive.
As part of the healing process following the Christchurch terror attack, Salesa said the Government engaged with the Muslim community and other faiths. In April last year, $1.4 million was provided to build stronger inter-faith connections.
The Ethnic Communities Development Fund went from $520,000 to $4.2m annually for social inclusion, community development, education and employment initiatives.
“We are proud of our actions to help build a more inclusive and harmonious Aotearoa New Zealand,” Salesa said.
Came said the mosque attacks last year forced the Government to act. It had been warned about racism and its effects for decades by Māori. Muslim women told the government hate was being directed at them years before the Christchurch terror attack.
She said there is a group of organisations trying to gain momentum and build anti-racism capacity but without government buy-in they can’t make sustained change.
“At the moment we’re sitting here in the absence of a planned approach,” Came said.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recommended in 2013, the Government review the adequacy of its legislation to address and sanction racist hate speech and incitement to racial hatred.
The Government finally committed to reviewing hate speech laws after the terror attack in 2019.
“I confined the review to issues associated with sections 61 and 131 of the Human Rights Act and received advice on that in December. I am considering that advice,” said Justice Minister Andrew Little.
“This is not work that can or should be rushed and I am considering all matters very carefully. I expect that a decision will be made public within weeks.”
Came said there are a hundred shades of racism. It’s not just hate speech the Government needs to focus on.
“We need that plan. This is an issue affecting all New Zealanders.”
In 2015, Came co-wrote a paper about what should be in a national plan to end racism. Some of the intellectual work for the Government has already been done, she said.
“We need a planned approach because it’s not going to spontaneously stop,” Came said.
“We can be one of the first to eliminate institutional racism and hate speech and all of the other things that are the underbelly of New Zealand society. I believe we can end racism.