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Source: Human Rights Commission

Chief Commissioner Paul Hunt says the Human Rights Commission Te Kāhui Tika Tangata is continuing to evolve so that it can better serve the people of Aotearoa New Zealand.

The comment follows an interview with Dame Susan Devoy in which she discussed her experiences as Race Relations Commissioner from 2013 until 2018.

Hunt was appointed a year after Dame Susan left the Commission.

The Chief Commissioner acknowledges the work of Dame Susan and says some of her remarks underline the need for a full-time Indigenous Rights Commissioner.

“A part-time Indigenous Rights Commissioner was abolished in 2017 with a view to the Governor-General appointing a full-time Indigenous Commissioner who would sit on the Commission’s Board. But we are still waiting.”

Hunt added, “In this day and age, it’s shocking that the Government, through the Governor-General, has not appointed someone as Tangata Whenua to sit on the Board of the country’s national human rights institution.”

Hunt says a Race Relations Commissioner with responsibility for racial, ethnic, and religious communities, and the human rights of Tangata Whenua, and Te Tiriti o Waitangi is old-fashioned and doesn’t fit the needs of contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand.

In the meantime, the current Race Relations Commissioner, Meng Foon, says he is working to serve all communities around the country.

“The role is challenging and one that, although shaped by legislation, has to be organic and adaptable to fit society’s needs. My role in helping build a harmonious and socially cohesive Aotearoa provides that I am here for all New Zealanders, whether Tangata Whenua or Tangata Tiriti. Personally I have an affinity with both, recognising the status of Māori as Tangata Whenua and the importance and contributions of Tangata Tiriti.”

Both Hunt and Foon believe a full-time Indigenous Rights Commissioner would improve work around social cohesion, acknowleding the unique challenges Tangata Whenua face. The Race Relations Commissioner would then bring more focus and attention to racial, ethnic, religious communities in advancing their equality and safety.

Hunt says an Indigenous Commissioner would also better reflect the journey Te Kāhui Tika Tangata is on.

“The Human Rights Commission is working hard to become a Tiriti-Based Organisation and be a role model for the public sector. But both objectives are impossible without at least one tangata whenua Commissioner.” 

Foon says such a move would complement and reinforce the investment the Commission has made to increase the operational capacity of its Ahi Kaa Indigenous rights team.

“With any organisation there are often historic issues that need resolving, as Race Relations Commissioner I am pleased that Te Kāhui Tika Tangata is on a journey of improving internally so it can better serve externally. This journey includes becoming a Tiriti-Based Organisation.”