Race relations has dropped off the top 10 issues that most concern New Zealanders for the first time since it peaked in 2004 with then National Party leader Don Brash’s controversial Orewa speech to the nation and the passage of the Foreshore and Seabed Act.
Race Relations conciliator, Joris de Bres, said the annual UMR poll showed New Zealanders’ concern about race relations between 2002 and 2004.
The issue began to decline in the succeeding two years and dropped off altogether last year.
‘Instead, it topped the list of issues that New Zealanders were most optimistic about.’
Proof of this was evident in the mood of this year’s Waitangi Day where many speeches on marae underlined this optimism.
‘The korero at the many public events was about what unites us peoples, not just M%u0101ori and P%u0101keh%u0101, but also Pacific, Asian and all the other cultures that form part of New Zealand today.’
Another affirmation came with the release of the new school curriculum which had undergone extensive consultation. This process does not happen every year. The last time the curriculum was changed was 15 years ago.
Joris de Bres said there were three principles among the 15 which affirmed the health of race relations in this country.
Firstly ‘the curriculum acknowledges the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, and the bicultural foundations of Aotearoa New Zealand. All students have the opportunity to acquire knowledge of te reo M%u0101ori me %u014Dna tikanga.’
On cultural diversity: ‘The curriculum reflects New Zealand’s cultural diversity and values the histories and traditions of all its people.’
And on inclusion: ‘The curriculum is non-sexist, non-racist, and non-discriminatory; it ensures that students’ identities, languages, abilities and talents are recognised and affirmed and that their learning needs are addressed.’
Joris de Bres said that students were encouraged throughout to ‘value diversity, as found in our different cultures, languages, and heritages, equity, through fairness and social justice, community and participation for the common good, and respect for themselves, others, and human rights’.
This is encouraging because, he says, New Zealand school children are the most racially diverse ever.
‘Around 40% of New Zealand school students as at 1 July 2007 were of M%u0101ori, Pacific and Asian descent, and the proportion for babies born in New Zealand in the September 2007 year was even higher at 55%. These numbers will continue to grow.’
The birth statistics also reflect this growing diversity. Only 10 percent of New Zealanders of all ages identified with more than one ethnic group in the 2006 Census but a quarter of babies had more than one ethnicity in 2007.
Two-thirds of Māori babies and one half of Pacific babies belonged to multiple ethnic groups, as did a third of babies of European, Asian and other descent.
Joris de Bres said the common ground is clear in the schools, and Race Relations Day on March 21 gives an opportunity to look at the common ground in the public domain. The draft statement on race relations is also titled ‘Finding Common Ground’. He said it had evolved since it was released to the New Zealand Diversity Forum last year.
The one-page statement starts with a brief narrative on the situation, then covers 10 propositions. These include rights and responsibilities, tangata whenua, freedom from discrimination, freedom of expression, safety, participation, equal opportunities, settlement, education and cultural diversity.
The full statement is available on the Human Rights Commission’s website www.hrc.co.nz/hrc_new/hrc/cms/files/documents/21-Feb-2008_13-28-13_Draft_Stmt_RR_Feb_08_V3.pdf.
‘Despite the vigour of our debates on race relations, it is useful to remind ourselves that we do indeed have a lot of common ground, both on the Treaty and on race relations overall, and that the debate needs to progress towards how we can make that common ground, in the terminology of the international human rights covenants, a civil, political, economic, social, and cultural reality for all New Zealanders.’
The draft statement is open for discussion and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.