Saturday, 25 October 2008

muticulturalism in law

i wasn't much in the mood to post yesterday, after having spent 4 hours or so working on the campaign. can't say on what, but i got home just before 10, and then got around to cooking dinner and eating.

today was a candidates meeting organised jointly by the waikato ethnic council and the migrant resource centre. it was preceded by a meeting of the ethnic council, in which the national president gave a presentation on a proposed multicultural act. this is something that the federation of ethnic councils has been working on and promoting over the last year. they want formal recognition of the multiculturalism, via legislation. the purpose being to entrench recognition of diversity.

it was an interesting presentation. their contention is that existing legislation, including the human rights act and the bill of rights act, were not sufficient in that they prevented discrimination but did not require recognition. they cited examples of the canadian legislation, as well as that of other countries. there was emphasis on recognising the special place of tangata whenua.

at this stage, neither of the major parties have committed to this proposal, but the council say they have firm support from united future, the maori party, the progressives and the greens.

one of the main problems with this proposal is the inability to have a mature public debate about this. the usual suspects would just start screaming loudly, and no-one would get heard in all the noise.

and yet, this is a debate we need to have. however, i see it as part of a much wider debate about a formal constitution and perhaps the move towards becoming a republic. these are all things that need to happen together. a multiculturalism act on it's own wouldn't work without having that wider discussion.

the candidates meeting was a piece of cake. there were set questions which had been provided beforehand. the labour-led government has a good story to tell in terms of settlement support through the establishment of migrant resource centres ($64 million allocated over 4 years). the work of the office of ethnic affairs has also been crucial in terms of policy work and programmes to support various communities. their latest initiative is the "connecting diverse communities" programme, which seeks to improve interaction and communication between various communities.

a lot of work has gone in to the development of this programme, particularly by those nameless, faceless pencil-pushing bureaucrat that national MPs are so keen to deiscredit. one thing i did at the meeting was put some names to those faces. i asked them: the next time you hear them talk about the bloated bureacracy and the pencil-pushers, i want you to think of sandra mckenzie (the new OEA staff member appointed to hamilton) or mervin singham (director of ethnic affairs) or pere paea (ethnic liaison officer, nz police). those are some of the people whose jobs may go in the "line-by-line review" proposed by the national party.

it's much harder to think of these people as useless pencil-pushers when we see who they are and recognise the value of the work they do.

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