In the last few months, the Human Rights Commission has found itself under the public glare as it tries to address the problem of serious misconduct by its managers. The misconduct, which appears to represent the tip of an iceberg of larger abuse problems in the H.R.C., has attracted the ire of some commentators.
The hypocrisy of the Human Rights Commission management is stinky, but the solution proposed by one commentator, Damien Grant is not the answer. Mr Grant proposes shutting down the H.R.C. altogether. He claims that the place to deal with bullying is not the Human Rights Commission, but rather the unions.
By focusing on its bullying issue, which is admittedly quite severe, Mr Grant is ignoring the larger mandate of the Human Rights Commission. This is a Government agency that is supposed to deal with all human rights abuses, complaints, advocacy work and promotion. This is for human rights, what the Privacy Commission is for issues relating to ones privacy. Without the Human Rights Commission there is no agency formally advocating for the human rights of New Zealanders.
By taking the example of Taika Waititi and distorting it, Mr Grant ignores the reasons that Mr Waititi made the comments in the first place. Mr Grant further – quite amazingly given the thunder of the MeToo movement – strides to suggest that New Zealand is not a sexist country.
Mr Grant is certainly entitled to his opinion and I will protect that and that of others who break ranks and play the devils advocate – something I occasionally do (and quite enjoy) – providing an outspoken voice. But all things considered, Mr Grant should not be surprised that there is resistance to his idea and bewilderment that he concludes something that hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders, myself included, completely disagree with him on.
New Zealand DOES have a race problem. And you only have to go into a bar on Friday night to see rampant sexism in action – pretty looking bar staff being ogled, inappropriate comments being made, general put downs.
In a world where dystopian forces increasingly challenge the rights of humans by creating a climate of fear and intimidation, the Human Rights Commission not only has a major role to play, but that role is becoming more important. The fear of diversity, has been propagated by politicians who are afraid of what a peaceful stable world would mean for them. Many of these have connections with the security or armaments industry. They are using media with significant financial resources behind them to suggest that minority groups such as refugees and asylum seekers are somehow dangerous.Overseas and in Australia, politicians, such as Australian Minister for Home Affairs of Australia, Peter Dutton use the climate of fear that is being stoked to bring in more and more draconian laws, such as the right of Police to eject from any airport anyone with no identification.
New Zealand does not seem to be following that trajectory, but that does not mean we should be complacent.
The Human Rights Commission does much advocacy work on behalf of New Zealanders, ensuring that there is an understanding of our most basic rights – freedom of association; speech; peaceful assembly and so forth.
So, what do I recommend, since I do not advocate closing it down?
- For starters a complete management clear out, because it is clear that there are many who are not fit for purpose
- And training of new managers to understand that the H.R.C. has to practice what it preaches
- An internal whistle blowing system enabling serious misconduct requiring disciplinary action, bad practice – willful or not – to be reported would also not go astray