A royal commission into racism?

Al Gillespie, professor of law at Waikato University, suggests we need a royal commission type inquiry into ‘racism’. I have no idea how that might work let alone what it could achieve.

Stuff:  We need a royal commission on racism

To my mind, to ask the bigger questions is necessary because hate laws would not have stopped the murderer doing his heinous acts  in Christchurch. By the time he started killing, he was already fully radicalised and putrid with racial hatred. This means that if the goal is to stop the emergence of such evil in future, it is necessary to see if there was a swamp that nurtured him from which he emerged, or whether he was just an aberration.

Even within New Zealand few would argue that a new law on hate crimes should not be created.

I think that a lot of us would like to see a robust debate on this before any hate law is created.

However, many will argue about how to define “hate”. While most would agree that physically threatening and obscenely abusive language based around racism should be prohibited, any consensus will fall apart when debating whether simply offensive and/or insulting speech linked to different ethnic groups should also be considered “hate” and therefore prohibited.

If the country is about to descend into the debate foreshadowed in the above paragraph, and that discussion will replace a wider examination about racism and discrimination in New Zealand, then a serious mistake is about to occur.

This is a time to place the needs for hate-crime legislation within a much larger basket of issues and responses that are needed to improve this country on the particular consideration of racism overall, of which new laws on hate-speech, despite being important, are only one part of the puzzle.

For that to occur, I believe a public inquiry, or royal commission, on racism in New Zealand is necessary.

The truth of the matter is that neither side really knows definitively if there is a problem, and if so, its scale.

The only way to find answers to this is to have a public inquiry on racism. This needs to take stock of where we have come from, where we are, and where we are going. It needs to cover racism and discrimination, wherever it is found – or not – in the past, and in the present  (from the street, to the workplace to the internet) –for any New Zealand citizen.

 Any such inquiry then needs to show how these problems are avoided or created.  Successes need to be showcased, as much as failures. If failures are found, then the direct and indirect consequences of them need to be shown.

Finally, and most importantly, if more work is required to defeat the scourge of racism, exactly how this should be done, such as via targets and indicators which could be incorporated directly into law and policy, needs to be clearly set out.

This sounds more academic than realism.

How do you change deep seated prejudices in people via “targets and indicators”?

Racism, sexism, politics and religion are all very complex and personal, based on beliefs acquired over lifetimes. I don’t know how it would be possible to legislate to change any of them.

Leading by example would be a better place to start. What about a royal commission looking at the motives and behaviours of our politicians?

Limit to expansion of inquiry into state care abuse

I thought that the expansion of the Royal Commission into Historical Abuse in State Care to also cover ‘Faith-Based Institutions’ was a good thing, and it is, but it has significant limitations.

The Beehive announcement: Royal Commission of Inquiry scope expanded

Cabinet has today agreed to expand the scope of a proposed inquiry into the abuse of children in state care, to include the abuse of children in the care of faith-based institutions.

The Inquiry will be called the Royal Commission into Historical Abuse in State Care and in the Care of Faith-Based Institutions, to reflect its expanded scope. Its terms of reference were released this afternoon.

“Today paves the way for us to confront a dark chapter of our national history by acknowledging what happened to people in state care, and in the care of faith-based institutions, and to learn the lessons for the future,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

“It was critical we got the Royal Commission right and the scope and purpose of this Inquiry has been carefully considered.

“Extending the scope so the Inquiry could look into both state care and in the care of faith-based institutions was one of the most strongly argued issues in the consultation process,” Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin said.

“In broadening the scope we nevertheless remain committed to fulfilling the expectations of those who sought an inquiry into state care.

But earlier this week from Chris Morris, who has just received his award for his series in the ODT on abuse in Catholic schools in Dunedin: Widened inquiry ‘may not go far enough’

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Dunedin says an expanded royal commission into the abuse of children may not go far enough.

Bishop Michael Dooley said yesterday he was “relieved” to hear children abused while in the care of faith-based institutions would now be included.

But the terms of reference specifically excluded private settings for abuse involving faith-based institutions, and it remained unclear whether others – like a church presbytery or a priest’s car – were included.

And Morris followed up by pointing out what could be a significant limitation in Expansion ‘a bitter sweet milestone’

But the press release announcing the expansion also contained four key words that jumped off the page almost immediately, and could yet make all the difference — “in the care of”.

While the terms of reference clearly defined which state-care settings would be included, the section on faith-based institutions was less clear.

It said the inquiry would cover areas where a faith-based institution “assumed responsibility for the care of an individual”.

Faith-based schools and residential and non-residential settings for faith-based care were included.

But fully private settings — except where the person was also in the care of a faith-based institution — were out, it said.

Exactly what else was covered remains open to interpretation, and nobody is yet prepared to say.

Would the inquiry, for example, include the actions of a rogue priest who abuses young parishioners or altar boys in a church presbytery, on day trips to the countryside, or while visiting the homes of his parishioners?

If not, the victims of Dunedin’s paedophile priest, Fr Magnus Murray, would be excluded.

And neither would the inquiry cover the actions of the Catholic Church, which moved Fr Murray to Australia, then brought him back to resume public ministry in New Zealand, exposing more young boys to abuse.

The inquiry must have some limits, but this could be a significant one.

Which would be a shame, as the Catholic Church has welcomed the inclusion of abuse in their church. They seem to have belatedly recognised that they have handled claims of abuse poorly, and need outside help in dealing with it.

There is a lack of clarity on what the expansion of the Royal Commission will cover:

Ms Ardern and Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin have been reluctant to answer ODT Insight questions in recent months.

Before the expanded inquiry was announced, they said it was not appropriate to comment while the terms of reference were considered.

After Monday’s announcement, they referred questions to the Royal Commission, saying it was “their place to comment from here on”.

A Royal Commission spokeswoman could not answer questions either, saying only the terms of reference would be reviewed to decide what was included.

Perhaps there is enough scope in the terms to properly investigate abuse by priests.


Deservedly: ‘ODT’ award winner named

Otago Daily Times reporter Chris Morris has been named the newspaper’s 2018 Valpy Rosebowl Trophy winner for his investigative reporting in the ODT series Mark of the Cross.