Peters versus Devoy and Gifford

Tim Murphy started a disagreement between Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy and Winston Peters today.

Video: Peters ‘aghast’ at Devoy’s claim of weight criticism

Winston Peters has defended his comments over Dame Susan Devoy, during a stand-up at Parliament this afternoon.

NZH report: Winston Peters defends his alleged comments of Dame Devoy

Winston Peters says he’s aghast at Susan Devoy’s claim he once told her to lose weight – and that what he did say was supposed to be a compliment.

The Deputy Prime Minister denied he ever made such “inflammatory remarks” to Devoy, who told an awards ceremony Q & A last night that Peters had once said she was a “bit round” – and had told her to walk the length of New Zealand to lose a few kilograms.

Peters told reporters this afternoon that he had made an innocent and complimentary remark to Devoy years ago that happened before she had done charity walk the length of the country in 1987.

“I said that she was an exceptional sportsperson because she could win when she wasn’t fit against the best in the world.

He seems to remember the occasion  but differs in his recollection.

But Phil Gifford backs Devoy’s memory: Second person says Winston Peters called Dame Susan Devoy overweight

Sportswriter Phil Gifford says Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters did call Dame Susan Devoy overweight in 1987.

Longtime sportswriter and broadcaster Gifford was with Devoy at the original function – a sports media awards dinner – in Auckland’s North Shore in 1987.

“He said he really admired her because she was a stone [6.4kg] overweight and yet she could still win world titles,” Gifford told Stuff.

“He said it a couple of times and Susan [Devoy] was furious. I believe it was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard a politician say in a speech.

“When he had finished and sat down, Susan [Devoy] finished our conversation and walked over to confront him about it. He left very soon after.

“I have no idea why he would deny it… Bizarrely enough I don’t think he thought of it as a joke I think he thought he was paying her a compliment.

“I’m also really really bugged that there’s a denial from Winston that somehow Susan just dreamed this whole thing up. She’s not Donald Trump.”

Peters has denied both Gifford’s and Devoy’s account of the event.

It seems an odd thing for Devoy to bring up now. It’s difficult to know exactly how it played out unless someone has video or audio.

Peter Williams has also commented: Dame Susan Devoy and Winston Peters story – ’embarrassment to professional journalism’

Last night I was at the New Zealand Sports Journalists Association annual awards dinner at the Ellerslie Events Centre. I was there because I was a judge and because I’m a Life Member of the Association.

Among the guests were two of the sporting stars of 30 years ago – Dame Susan Devoy and Peter Lester.

In other words, they were two of the sporting heroes of their era and as such were invited to the NZSJA annual dinner to celebrate and remember their great feats 30 years on.

In order to sing for their supper, both were subjected to a light hearted Q and A session on stage. During Dame Susan’s session, conducted by veteran sports journalist Phil Gifford, she made some comments about the deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.

Now they were not especially complimentary comments, but neither were they malicious. It was a fun night, with lots of awards and lots of laughs.

It was a privilege for us media types to have Dame Susan – who I regard as a very distinguished New Zealander – among us. It was even more pleasurable to be sitting beside her, with Phil Gifford one chair over.

So when I heard that a former editor of the New Zealand Herald had sent out a tweet quoting Dame Susan talking about Winston Peters, without any context at all, and that Dame Susan had to leave the function to attend to the follow up calls from hungry media inquiries, I was – to say the least – quite angry.

This was a pleasant, harmless and – I thought – relatively innocent night out.  What was said there was, I would have thought, off the record. Chatham House rules and all that.

But no, some journalists and editors can’t resist. Those bloody mobile phones and that awful medium called Twitter have wrecked a good night out for me and probably others too.

I’m embarrassed for the profession of journalism.

Are comments made openly at the New Zealand Sports Journalists Association annual awards really off limits for reporting?

The point is, these are social nights out. The speaker is there to add a bit of value in an entertaining way. Is there really a need for reporters – off duty – to beat up what are mainly innocent and humorous comments?

If this practice becomes widespread, no person of profile or reputation will be bothered to offer any comments on anything.

Can’t we just have some innocent fun every now and then?

Perhaps there has to be agreement between journalists at public events what is able to be reported and what isn’t – i presume awards were ok to be reported.

Race Relations Commissioner Devoy on anti-Semitism

The Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy has responded to the reported anti-Semitic speech in an Auckland mosque.

People who deny the Holocaust took place are many things, but most of all, they are liars.

Whether they are a representative of the Iranian Government like Hormoz Gharemani or whether they are members of a “White Pride” group – they are all liars.

Holocaust survivors are some of the bravest New Zealanders I have ever met. They’ve seen the very worst of humanity, they’ve looked evil in the eye and survived anyway. They embody the very best of humanity; they are true Kiwi battlers.

The Islamic Ahlulbyt Foundation Centre which hosted the event at which Mr Gharemani and others spoke need to let the rest of us know whether they will continue to tolerate this kind of hateful korero at their events. They need to make a stand and let New Zealand know that they won’t help spread hate and lies.

But they are not the only ones. The hatred directed at Jewish New Zealanders did not begin with this Youtube clip. A few years ago an Auckland pre-schooler was attacked by strangers who ripped his yarmulke off his head because he was a Jew. Israeli flags have been burned on our streets and Jews blamed for the actions of a government thousands of miles away from Queen Street in Auckland. For many years our synagogues and Jewish cemeteries have been consistently vandalised and attacked by cowards who come in the dead of the night to destroy headstones and spraypaint hate. That this happens here in Aotearoa makes me incredible sad, angry and ashamed.

Few Kiwis know that on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, the war memorial in a New Zealand city was tagged with racist hate speech. In the early hours of that morning city officials, community leaders, us at the Human Rights Commission, police and others mobilised. Those words of hate were removed by daylight. Why? Because leaving them there was exactly what those people wanted: they wanted to be famous, they wanted their hate to go viral. But leaving them there was not an option. We are the first country in the world to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day and we weren’t going to let their racist words of hate dominate our ceremonies. We wanted that day to focus on celebrating New Zealanders who’d survived the Holocaust, to give thanks for their lives and to make sure the rest of us never, ever forgot the horrors they survived. Throughout that day we thought about those few, hateful individuals who would’ve been constantly refreshing their browsers hoping to see their handiwork trending. But they never did.

If we are to learn anything from the Holocaust it is that racism and hatred starts small. But we ignore it at our peril. All of us are responsible to ensure we live in a country where hate is never normalised. We can never let our country become one where racism goes unquestioned. And if we have to use glitter bombs to make our point – as some did at parliament over the weekend – so be it. It’s up to all of us to decide what kind of country we live in. While there are formal complaint processes that can and have been taken, just because something isn’t illegal does not make it OK.

Our religious leaders should be using their considerable powerful platforms to promote tolerance and peace across our communities. Whether it’s a mosque giving Holocaust deniers a platform or whether it’s an evangelical church spewing hatred about gay New Zealanders: this is not how we roll here. This is not who we are. This is who we do not want to ever become.

From The Spinoff:  ‘This is who we do not want to ever become’: Dame Susan Devoy on anti-Semitism in New Zealand

‘Suffering in silence’ from racism

The Human Rights Commission today launched a new campaign against racial intolerance, fronted by actor and director Taika Waititi.

RNZ:  New Zealanders ‘suffering in silence’ from racism

Racial intolerance is getting worse in New Zealand but most of those targeted suffer in silence, Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy says.

She said Waititi, as New Zealander of the Year, was an obvious choice to front the ‘Give Nothing To Racism’ campaign – and she contacted him while he was away working in the United States.

“I sent him a letter, and some Pineapple Lumps, to Los Angeles,” she said. “He took a day off working on Thor and did this.”

Dame Susan said one in three formal complaints to the Human Rights Commission was about racial discrimination, but the overwhelming majority of people never complained when they were humiliated or abused.

“I’m seeing and hearing every day from people in the community that are talking about the racial attacks on them,” she told Morning Report.

When there was an event such as a terrorist attack overseas, Muslim people, particularly women and children, were targeted, she said.

“Women who are visually diverse in New Zealand who wear a hijab talk all the time about being racially abused at bus stops and schools and in their communities.

“And what is sad about that is nobody comes to their defence.”

No one group was being targeted in New Zealand, and racist abuse was not limited to recent immigrants.

“Fourth-generation New Zealanders are still telling me that they’re the butt of racist jokes or being told to go home,” she said

There was a rise in racial hatred overseas and in New Zealand.

“I believe that things are getting worse and the reality is most people don’t complain about this.”

Dame Susan said everyone had a responsibility to speak up against racism, and urged politicians to refrain from pulling the race card in the lead-up to the election.

Winston peters reacted negatively to this.

This is the second stage of the commission’s anti-racism campaign. Last September it launched the ‘That’s Us’ campaign with a website that enabled people to share their personal stories of racism.


No white man is an island

I’ve tried to avoid the spat from Waiheke Island involving ‘mad Butcher’ Peter Leitch and Lara Wharepapa Bridger, who posted a video on Facebook. This was picked up in social media and by mainstream media in a slow news period furore, with claims of racism and many other things flying around in the fray.

It has probably been stirred up for another day at least by the Race Relations commissioner, with a Dame supporting a Sir.

Sir Peter Leitch ‘the least racist person I know’ – Devoy

Sir Peter Leitch is under fire for his comments that Waiheke Island was a “white man’s island”, but the Race Relations commissioner, Dame Susan Devoy, says he is the least racist person she knows.

Sir Peter allegedly told a woman of Māori ancestry that Waiheke Island was a “white man’s island” and that she should get off it.

In a now-removed video on her Facebook page, 23-year-old Lara Wharepapa Bridger cried as she described the incident with Sir Peter.

She said he approached her and her whānau and started talking, before telling her Waiheke Island was a white man’s island.

Sir Peter said he was extremely disappointed she misinterpreted some light-hearted banter.

Dame Susan said she knew Sir Peter personally and it was unlikely his comments were meant to offend.

“I know he’s the least racist person I know in the world and yet what he said was obviously taken as offence by that young woman.

“But I wasn’t there and I wasn’t part of the conversation.

“It’s grown real legs, hasn’t it?”

More angry fingers and arm waving than legs.

Dame Susan said Sir Peter often used light-hearted banter, which could be misinterpreted.

“The last thing he would have wanted in the world was to offend someone, I know that.

“Let’s not forget he’s done a lot of great work in terms of race relations in New Zealand – providing opportunity and building bridges between different cultures.

“I think it’s generational and culturally different these days and he’s probably licking his wounds today.”

Dame Susan said what was acceptable 40 years ago was not now.

“We at the Commission launched a campaign about casual racism, getting people to stand up and address it.”.

A problem with ‘casual racism’ is that it’s easy to say things casually that can be picked up by others and misinterpreted and distorted and blown completely out of proportion to the original conversation.

I prefer to divert.

No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee. [John Donne, first published 1624, original spelling and punctuation]

Race Relations Commissioner popular?

A NZ Herald poll shows that Race relations Commissioner Susan Devoy is more popular than unpopular, but I wonder how many of the public know much about what she does.

A Herald-DigiPoll survey asked people to rate Dame Susan’s performance:

  • Had done a satisfactory job – 58%
  • Her performance was “good” – 17%
  • She had done a “poor job 0- 16%

Devoy’s appointment was controversial but I wouldn’t be surprised if only a small percentage of the poll pool have much knowledge to judge her performance on.

Dame Susan’s popularity defies critics

Responding to the poll, Dame Susan said the result was interesting but her job was not a popularity contest.

“No matter what I do or say, some people will remain opposed to me and the work I am doing with our team at the Human Rights Commission. I just hope that they will take on the broader messages and think about the issues.

“New Zealanders don’t like being told what to do so that’s why we try to focus on highlighting real-life incidents and encouraging Kiwis to think about the issue and to do the right thing.”

She said she truly believed New Zealanders were fair-minded people, but race relations was a work in progress and Kiwis had to keep challenging themselves to be better people.

“It’s not something we can rest back on our laurels over.”

I was aware of Devoy’s appointment in 2013 and saw public criticism of it. I’ve seen her criticised on blogs. I’ve seen the role and the Race Relations Commission criticised.

But the poll suggests that those vocal about and critical of Devoy’s appointment may be a smallish minority.

How many people really know what the Race relations Commissioner does and how effective she is?

I don’t think it’s possible to judge from a few controversial media stories and a bit of blog bitching..


Saving Chrismiss

Susan Devoy, the Race Relations Commissioner, has provoked a lot of discussion about whether Christmas should be blanderised to “not offend” immigrants.

I’m not religious but I have no problem with Christmas being called Christmas, or Chrismiss as many of us tend to call it.

We could also quibble about other occasions:

  • Easter even though we are regarded as ‘Western’
  • Queens Birthday that’s nowhere near the Queen’s birthday
  • Labour Day – I doubt most people know or care what it’s about other than a long weekend.

Worrying about how they they are described woukld be as silly..

In any case Devoy has clarified what she meant and didn’t mean.

An Open Letter to New Zealanders: Christmas is still on

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy confirmed today she had no plans to ban Christmas or any other sacred or religious day.

“New Zealanders decide how to celebrate Christmas, or Easter or any other special day and that’s just the way it should be: I’m the Race Relations Commissioner not the Christmas Relations Commissioner,” said Dame Susan.

“It’s not my job to tell anyone how to observe or talk about Christmas: that’s really up to everyday New Zealanders.”

At the weekend a news story was published that claimed Dame Susan backed plans to remove the word Christmas. The Human Rights Commission rejects this claim. The Auckland Regional Migrants Services Trust prefers non-religious, secular language when inviting communities to attend some of their events because they don’t want non-Christians to think they aren’t included in the invitation. Their choice of language is about inclusion not exclusion.

“I never said we or anyone else should ‘ban Christmas’ and I never would. What I did say is that it’s up to everyday New Zealanders to decide how to observe Christmas and no one else: New Zealanders hate being told what to do and I wouldn’t welcome anyone telling my family how to observe Christmas,” said Dame Susan.

“I am not the Race Relations Commissioner Who Stole Christmas and urge Kiwis to relax as we have many more important human rights issues to worry about. Today marks White Ribbon Day, in our small nation New Zealanders face 200 domestic violence incidents every day. This is the human rights issue New Zealanders need to get angry and upset about and something I would gladly ban, if only I could.”

Merry Christmas and Peace on Earth to You All

Dame Susan Devoy

Race Relations Commissioner

Getting merry at Chrismiss will be a lot more likely than peace on Earth.

If we could forego a Christmas worth of presents and drinking to achieve peace on Earth would enough people agree?

Give Susan Devoy a fair go

What about giving Susan Devoy a fair go?

NZ Herald closes an editorial on Susan Devoy’s appointment as Race Relations Commissioner.

What is important is her experience, or lack thereof, in race relations. Only on that basis should her appointment be judged.

They had pointed out the usual criticisms.

Indeed, in newspaper columns, she has criticised the way Waitangi Day has been “marred” by protest and described burqas as “disconcerting”.

Having an empathy with widely held views shouldn’t be held against her. As Commissioner she will have to address sensitive issues, not be silent because some people think any discussion is taboo.

Devoy’s obvious lack of relevant background was highlighted.

It seems odd that Dame Susan Devoy applied for the job of Race Relations Commissioner. It is even odder that she got it. While Dame Susan has worked successfully in several fields subsequent to her magnificent squash exploits, she has no obvious background or expertise in race relations

How many people have that obvious background? How many of the previous Commissioners had an obvious background?

The sensitivities associated with the job probably explain why the Justice Ministry had to advertise the job twice and why Mr de Bres’ tenure was extended by six months. But it does not make the final selection any easier to understand.

There is obviously not a lot of willing candidates with whatever experience is deemed adequate for this job.

Why not judge her appointment of how she performs?

Surely she has a right not to be prejudged and discarded because a few people kick up a fuss about her appointment.

Some of those being criotical are as bad as rascists, showing an intolerance for someone they believe may have different views to them.

Do Labour fear a Labor debacle here?

It wouldn’t be surprising if there were fears here that we could see a panic leadership debacle like Australian’s Labor Party.

It’s common for fears to to be projected.

IrishBill at The Standard turns a diss On Dame Susan Devoy into trying to talk up leadership friction and factions in the National Party. That’s like trying to light some kindling while his own party pants are on fire.

Wishful thinking about distant future National battles won’t hide the fact that IrishBill’s Labour have real leadership concerns of their own right now, and there is genuine fear in the ranks about next year’s election campaign if Shearer remains.

Irish concerns about race relations appointments and trying to fan National flames that don’t really exist may simple reflect his own fears.

When political activists start lashing out it’s worth having a wee look within.

An attempt to ditch a Labor leader across the ditch in a panic reaction to a pre election poll could be easily echoed here. It has also been openly talked about as possibility.

Should Susan Devoy’s appointment be squashed?

I don’t know if Susan Devoy would make a good race relations commissioner or not, I know too little about her. I’m a bit of a maverick amongst bloggers, I don’t spend thirty seconds on Google and then rip in to a rant on topics or people I know little about.

I give the people who make appointments like this the benefit of the doubt unless there is good reason to criticise. And it can take time to evaluate, especially with appointments that seem to come out of left court.

Stuff give some opinions in Dame Susan: I have to be voice of reason.

Justice Minister Judith Collins, who appointed her, was firm that the right appointment had been made.

“She’s a very fair, honest and decent person, and frankly, she’s got a spine that I admire.”

If accurate that sounds like a good enough starting point.

Mana Party president Annette Sykes called for Dame Susan to be sacked for her “racist viewpoint”.

Passing the Sykes non-racist test would exclude many people, but I suspect Sykes would fail the test of many too.

What race is Devoy?

Dame Susan Devoy admits she is not yet in a position to make statements as the country’s race relations commissioner – she is not even sure whether she is part-Maori.

“It’s a long-held view that we are of Ngati Kahungunu descent. But that has never been proven in any births, deaths and marriages certificate,” she said, describing questions yesterday about her ethnicity as “awkward”.

“My mother’s name was Tui and if you saw her you would instantly think we were Maori … I think you’re as Maori as you feel.”

I had no idea she was possibly part-Maori. And I wonder if that matters.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples yesterday described the appointment as “fantastic” but his colleague Te Ururoa Flavell questioned whether it was appropriate, given her views on Waitangi Day.

Interesting contrast of opinion there. The Waitangi Day criticism has been prominent.

Yesterday she described Waitangi Day as “extraordinarily important” but “it isn’t New Zealand Day, is it?” she said.

That sounds perceptive to me, Waitangi Day is obviously important to some but many don’t see it as a New Zealand type of day. And ambivalence isn’t along racial lines, Otago Maori chose not to make a big thing of Waitangi Day this year.

There is more to Waitangi and New Zealand than some people wanting an annual soapbox.

“What I would like is to see New Zealand celebrate our national day [in a way] that is a celebration, and perhaps that might be my first role, my first job, sorting it out,” Dame Susan said, before insisting that it wasn’t a public issue and “I certainly won’t be making it one”.

It could be a good thing for her to sort out – perhaps by trying to reconcile a variety of views, but that might be too radical for Sykes.

She had never considered whether she was politically correct enough for the role, but it was “quite possible” she would continue to speak freely.

Being seen as “politically correct enough for the role” would be terrible criteria for the position – political correctness has become a corruption of broad views and understanding.

“But I think in this role I have to be the voice of reason … This is not a platform for me to voice my own views, it’s really to advocate on behalf of.”

That sounds like a reasonable approach to me. She must have said things like that in her job interview.

But I still don’t know enough to decide whether to offer a blogger bouquet or bollocking yet. I sometimes get accused of sitting on the fence, but I prefer to look at it as working out what the fence is made of – and for some reason blogger barbed wire reminds me of pricks and arses.

In any case I’m backing Devoy’s appointment, unless I see good reason it was flawed, and I haven’t seen anything convincing to suggest to me it is.