Sunday, March 14, 2010

David Round: Axing the Thought Police

Just off the top of your head, as they say, what would you imagine the job of the Race Relations Commissioner to entail? Well, we would say, scratching our heads as we racked our brains, he would surely be in charge of promoting good race relations ~ a rather vague project, admittedly. We will have read his pronouncements in the newspapers, and be aware that he receives complaints which he may or may not do something about, depending on whether they coincide with his own prejudices or not. It is all a bit worthy, and we are aware of the traditional anti-pakeha prejudice of the office, but nevertheless we cannot object too much in principle to the general idea.

Possibly we cannot, although we got on very well for a long time without this particular species of busybody, and in these more enlightened and racism-conscious times it could surely be well argued that such an official is less, not more, necessary than in the past. But anyway, if you read the Human Rights Act 1993 you will see there a description of his duties reflecting our general understanding. It is a description of duties which in principle one cannot really complain too much about. His duty is to promote and protect human rights, to encourage the development of harmonious relations, to promote equal employment opportunities and to provide a dispute resolution service for complaints of discrimination on the grounds of (among other things) colour, race, and ethnic or national origins.

But how different things are in practice. The Commissioner takes a wide view of what these duties involve. He interprets them to justify his lobbying for a change to fundamental constitutional arrangements. He does not just protect such racial variety as exists here; he actively promotes ‘diversity’, as he would call it, which others might well call a loss of our country’s existing character and sense of community and common purpose, and the promotion of destructive tribalisms.

If you want to be bored, infuriated and frightened at the same time you might do worse than dip in to Tui Tui Tuituia, Race Relations in 2009, this year’s report of the Race Relations Commissioner. The very first of his ten priorities for the coming year is ‘reviewing the place of the Treaty in New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements and the future of the Maori seats in Parliament’. There can be little doubt of what his views are on that, or on how he might want to ‘ensure that Maori, Pacific and ethnic communities [note the implication that European New Zealanders are somehow not ‘ethnic’] have a voice in the decisions of the new Auckland super city council’. A third priority is to ‘ensure that the new Auckland super city continues the Treaty of Waitangi relationships, cultural diversity and settlement support programmes established by the outgoing Auckland councils’. Uh huh. The commissioner’s views on these matters are all quite clear ~ he wants to see the Treaty enshrined in a place of honour in a new written constitution, and he wants special racial seats reserved for his favourite ethnic communities. These are all politically charged matters where decent and fair-minded citizens are entitled to disagree with such proposals. Yet here we have an unelected, unaccountable official spending public funds in the promotion of a highly contentious ~ and, we would add, fundamentally divisive and destructive ~ political programme. He even considers the Maori sovereignty flag to be a race relations issue.

Another of the top ten priorities is ‘completing strategies for Maori and Pacific languages, and developing strategies for New Zealand sign language, community languages, translating and interpreting services and languages in schools’. The Maori language of course belongs here; but I can only interpret this clause to mean that the Commissioner does not believe that English (or for that matter even Maori) should be the common language of our country, but that speakers of Pacific and ‘community languages’ (which presumably must mean other languages ), even though by their own choice in a new country, have a ‘human right’ to refuse to integrate into their new society in even this most basic way. The other side of the coin is therefore that it is our duty (for where one has a right, another has a duty) to put up with this and indeed even to provide translation services. And this is to apply even in schools, where there will, accordingly, be no obligation to learn English. This is disintegration with a vengeance. What is a country without a common language, or the expectation that there should be one?

The Report mentions a supermarket where a sign instructed all employees to speak English; the Commissioner disapproved of this sign, and records with obvious satisfaction that the supermarket later withdrew it, explaining that it had been put up in error. I cannot see what is so unreasonable about all employees speaking, and of course understanding, the same language; it is surely not only reasonable but necessary in any common employment that people be able to communicate with each other. Besides, the use of the Maori language is often justified on the somewhat legalistic ground that ‘it is one of our official languages’; well, by the same token, the other languages spoken by supermarket employees will not be official. Does that count for nothing? If Maori may be spoken, even though not understood, because it is ‘official’ what is wrong with the official use of English?

We might also ask, what is a Commissioner whose duty is to deal with race doing promoting the preservation of imported foreign culture? Language, religion and culture are none of his brief; but under the disguise of race he smuggles them in.

Likewise, the report mentions a District Court judge who prevented a Muslim woman with a headscarf from entering a courtroom. This was later acknowledged to be a ‘mistake’, and the Chief District Court judge has since given the Muslim community an assurance that judges are sensitive to the New Zealand Bill of Rights provisions about discrimination. Again, I do not see that this is any of the Commissioner’s business; the matter was not one of race, nor even actually religion (for not all Muslims consider headscarves necessary) but of culture; and judges have valid practical concerns ~ with identification and security ~ about headgear. But even the judges are running scared now, afraid to defend their own decisions when criticised by this architect of this brave new world.

In the introduction to the report the Commissioner openly acknowledges his role in the promotion of diversity ~ including ‘religious, language and media diversity’ He actually considers it a good thing in principle that we speak different languages, worship different gods and generally have less in common with each other. This is the opposite of nation building. It is the opposite of a common national identity. ‘Multiculturalism’, a jumble of imported and rootless bits and pieces, none organically founded in this country’s history and experience, reduces all cultures to worthlessness ~ because one cannot be better than another, all are equally valid and therefore all equally invalid, not rooted in the nature of things. And it also, of course, positively encourages newcomers to stay in their own ghettoes and consider only the interests of their own little group, and never the interests of the greater New Zealand community.

You will be interested, but hardly surprised, to learn that the United Nations Human Rights Council, which the Commissioner quotes with approval, recommends ‘continuing public discussion over the status of the Treaty, with a view to possible entrenchment as a constitutional norm’, ensuring the Treaty is incorporated into domestic legislation where relevant’ and ‘considering granting binding powers to adjudicate Treaty matters to the Waitangi Tribunal’. Heaven help us if that happens.

The Race Relations Commissioner is an unelected official who is promoting a contentious political programme, one which many reasonable people consider to be fundamentally ill-conceived. In doing this he goes well beyond the scope of what was envisaged by his empowering legislation. He goes beyond issues of race to ones of language and culture. He contrives to present opposition to his dubious political and social views as racist and illegal. He promotes a climate of fear by very publicly condemning anyone who even tries to raise these issues for debate and discussion. He is one of the thought police, an enemy of the freedom of thought and debate necessary in any democratic society. It would be of immense benefit to our country if his was one of the offices the government were to axe in its current cost-cutting exercise.


Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more.

Anonymous said...

The worrying thing is that so few people realise the dangers inherent in allowing all people all rights and no responsibilities. The very democracy of our nation could be threatened by a minority who do not share our views on democracy or equality of persons, and politicians seem bent on enshrining these rights in law without allowing any rights to defend traditional or defecting views.

Anonymous said...

Go to India, a vast land of many languages and dialects. English is the common language that alows the country to actually get anything done.
One could also add 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do!'

Anonymous said...

On the money. It's hard to beleive that our so-called 'right-of-centre' government hasn't got rid of this divisive idiot already.

Allen Hogan said...

If our country is so desireable that people from other cultures and religions come here. Why do they then want us to change and adopt the attitudes that they fled from?

Lets get back to what this country stood for, freedom to speak your mind and be willing to debate without fear of being pillored. Be it about race, religion or even the threat of ahthropogenic global warming.

One country for all people, all people for one country.

Anonymous said...

If, as you say, the Moslem woman's head scarf was a cultural choice, not a religious requirement, there are all sorts of precedents set here.
A Scotsman, for example , could then claim the right to wear a tam o'shanter in court.
What would happen if large numbers of women attending courts of law were to wear a headscarf because their European forebears wore them ? The women could claim that they are wearing these as a sign of respect for all the women who were required to wear them when they worked in factories during the wars etc. etc.

Judges wear wigs, but is this not a cultural choice too?
If the wig is a symbol of impartial justice, then the judiciary must be seen to be upholding equality for all, regardless of cultural allegiances.
We are indeed in deep trouble if a judge's exercising of proper court procedure can be overturned by a political appointee.

In the context of the courtroom, either there is a free cultural choice for all, or there is none for anyone........It is high time a decision was made in this and similar contexts.