After the Christchurch attack, we must radically rethink the silos between the existing agencies pursuing inclusion of different ethnic groups within NZ, writes the University of Auckland’s Louise Humpage 

The March 15 terror attack in Christchurch highlighted many gaps in New Zealand’s policy architecture. I’m not talking here about gun control, security agencies missing white supremacy on social media or the efficiency of first responders.

Instead, we discovered that the Race Relations Commissioner’s role had remained empty for nine months due to internal problems within, and legal cases against, the Human Rights Commission. This same agency also reported failed attempts to get racist threats and attacks recorded as hate crimes.

Moreover, repeated reports of Islamophobia and racism against Muslim and ethnic minority communities have often ended up going nowhere, much to the distress of the individuals and communities involved. We can do better.

Back in 2004, demographers Andew Trlin and Noel Watts stressed the need for an integrated, interactive policy framework that includes: an immigration policy that regulates entry, impartially and flexibly as required in the national interest; an immigrant policy geared towards the economic, social and cultural post-arrival settlement needs of immigrants; and an ethnic relations policy that prepares established New Zealanders for diversity via “remedial and proactive measures to foster positive intergroup relations, counteract xenophobic attitudes and combat discriminatory practices in all spheres of social and economic activity”.

Close to two decades later, we are still waiting for the ethnic relations policy. New Zealand has developed a Refugee Resettlement Strategy and a Migrant Settlement and Integration Strategy, both of which have the goal of inclusion or participation.

Yet, neither explicitly incorporates a focus on the attitudes and behaviours of established New Zealand communities, which inevitably shape whether a new refugee or migrant feels they are accepted and belong. 

The Human Rights Commission’s ‘That’s Us’ campaign in 2016 tried to encourage New Zealanders to think about what it means to be a Kiwi and acknowledge “racial discrimination in our backyard” but it lacked profile. More work is clearly needed.

Focusing on manaakitanga means neither white New Zealanders nor minority group members need give up what is important to them, but must understand different ways of being and living.

To ensure a newly developed ethnic relations policy has the mana required to alter the status quo, we need to radically rethink the silos between the existing agencies that variously pursue the inclusion of different ethnic groups within New Zealand.

A new Ministry for Inclusion could bring together Immigration New Zealand, notably the arms that focus on resettlement and integration, and the Office of Ethnic Communities which advises government on ethnic diversity and provides information, advice, and funds services to support ethnic community development and social cohesion. 

The Human Rights Commission, an independent Crown Entity funded through the Ministry of Justice, should maintain its independence but be housed within the Ministry of Inclusion. Te Puni Kōkiri and the Ministry for Pacific Peoples, which aim to ensure the inclusion of Māori and Pacific peoples within New Zealand society and economy, should have strong ties to the new Ministry for Inclusion so it doesn’t focus specifically on new migrants; both Māori and Pasifika peoples face ongoing discrimination despite most being born in New Zealand. Close relationships with the police and other agencies like social development, housing and health will also be necessary to address all forms of exclusion in New Zealand society.

A focus on relationships between all ethnic groups, including white New Zealanders, should be the core work of the Ministry of Inclusion. This could be framed by the Māori concept of manaakitanga: the process of showing and receiving care, respect, generosity.

While a hard line against discriminatory practices will be required in some circumstances, cultivating relationships based on trust, empowerment and kindness will – in the long-run – be the key to reducing the likelihood of discrimination occurring in the first place.

Focusing on manaakitanga means neither white New Zealanders nor minority group members need give up what is important to them, but must understand different ways of being and living. If I was sceptical before March 15, the outpouring of genuine aroha for the terror attack victims and their families have convinced me that many New Zealanders would welcome such an approach.

Now is the time for action, when there is a growing awareness that New Zealand is not as ‘friendly’ as it is often represented, but also plenty of the kind of goodwill required to make lasting change.

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