Speech to Auckland Moslem Listening ForumEthnic Affairs
It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the very first Ethnic Listening Forum, organized by the Government.
I am delighted to see that so many Auckland Moslems have turned out to participate in today’s event.
The idea is that this Forum will be the first in a series of meetings with different ethnic communities and groups throughout the country.
As the newly appointed Minister of Ethnic Affairs, I am your advocate within government.
I have come here today to hear your views, answer your questions, note down the issues you raise and take them back to Wellington to work out what the Government can do to resolve them.
You may be wondering why we decided to hold the first of these forums with the Moslem community.
Quite simply because Moslems around the world have had a rough twelve months.
The terrorist attacks in New York and Bali have focused unwelcome attention on what you and I know is a peaceful religion.
I wanted to make a gesture of solidarity by coming here to meet with you after your holy festival, Ramadan, and on the eve of mine, Christmas.
I don’t want you to feel that we are singling you out. The intention is quite the opposite, I am here to ensure you feel included.
Before we begin, I would like to introduce some of today’s participants.
My Labour colleague, Dr Ashraf Choudhary MP, New Zealand’s first Moslem Member of Parliament has kindly agreed to chair this Forum.
Ashraf is a prominent academic, a distinguished community worker, and a former President of the New Zealand Federation of Ethnic Councils. I am sure he is personally known to many of you.
Also on the stage is Eddie Eyre from the New Zealand Immigration Service.
I anticipate that some of the issues raised today will concern immigration, and I have asked the department to send a representative. Welcome Eddie, and thank you for coming.
I would also like to introduce staff from the Office of Ethnic Affairs, the government department that works to assist ethnic New Zealanders.
Sonja Rathgen, the Wellington-based Director, and Jennifer Janif and Fazeela Raza, the Auckland Community Advisors are here today.
Jennifer and Fazeela are members of Auckland’s Moslem community and I thank them for their hard work in making this Forum a success.
In the audience is Warren Lindburg, one of New Zealand’s Human Rights Commissioners. The Human Rights Commission deals with complaints of discrimination.
I hope you don’t have cause to use this service but if you do, Warren will be able to provide you with information on how to contact the Commission.
Finally, I have here today my Private Secretary for Ethnic Affairs, Serge Sablyak, who works in Wellington.
Serge is himself a recent migrant from Bosnia. He is employed full-time in my Parliamentary office to take your calls, answer your queries, and assist your communities in any way possible.
The ministerial portfolio for ethnic affairs was created in 1999 because the Labour-led government recognised that ethnic New Zealanders, including Moslems, have particular needs.
The 2001 Census showed that ten percent of all New Zealanders, some 400,000 people, are neither Maori, Pacific Islanders, or Anglo-Celtic.
Ours is a diverse and growing population. Over the next 25 years, New Zealand will become a nation of many colours, many cultures, and many peoples.
Let me say right away that this is a good thing. As you are undoubtably aware there are those in politics who think otherwise.
I want to reassure you they are a tiny minority.
It is my view and the Government’s that ethnic New Zealanders contribute to our country in every way – economically, socially and culturally. It is vital that this contribution is recognized.
Two weeks ago, my Cabinet colleagues and I agreed to authorize the publication of the ‘Ethnic Perspectives in Policy’ document.
This publication is a guide for all departments on how to create policy that is sensitive to the needs of ethnic people.
From now on, Cabinet has directed that when officials are developing policy they must consider the needs of ethnic people, just as they already recognize the needs of Maori and Pacific Islanders.
This may sound like a small thing but in the machinery of government it is enormously significant.
The impact of Ethnic Perspectives will be felt in all areas be it health, housing, education, law enforcement or immigration.
It will pave the way for every government department to be more aware of the needs of its ethnic clients.
In addition, I want to inform you that the Government has made excellent progress on a telephone interpreting service, which the Prime Minister announced earlier this year.
The idea of this service is to enable us to talk across languages.
You will be able to call certain people up and talk to them in Urdu or Arabic and some one will translate what you are saying into English for them. Their response will then be translated back into Urdu or Arabic for you.
The service will feature almost thirty languages.
It will be available to those government agencies, such as WINZ, Immigration, Housing, Inland Revenue, and the Police, who deal with ethnic New Zealanders most often.
Imagine being able to get all the information about a benefit or your tax file in your own language. Or being able to report a crime without being misunderstood.
The idea of a telephone translation service is based on an Australian model, which has been running for many years and is very successful.
It is something highly practical that the Government is doing for ethnic New Zealanders, and I am very proud of this initiative.
As I indicated earlier, the September 11 attacks have drawn attention to your community, even though Moslem New Zealanders are valuable, hard-working, law abiding citizens.
I am confident that most Kiwis realize that a particular ethnic group cannot be blamed for the actions of a small number of individuals overseas.
Nevertheless, there have been incidents where Moslem women in New Zealand have been harassed or attacked because they were wearing religiously appropriate dress, where Moslem centers were attacked and vandalized, and where members of your community were made to feel unsafe and unwelcome.
I want to give you an undertaking, on behalf of the Government, that there is no place for religious hatred in New Zealand.
We will do everything in our power to punish the perpetrators of hate crimes.
We will do everything we can to discredit those who advocate division and discord.
And we will work to educate the public on the importance of racial harmony.
Immigrants, refugees, and New Zealand-born ethnic people are all part of our society.
New Zealand’s record on race-relations, including our willingness to recognize and right past wrongs, has been the envy of many other countries. We will not throw that away.
Similarly, New Zealand will continue to be a willing international citizen working for peoples all over the world. This includes our role in the United Nations, and in peace-keeping and peace-building operations.
Our commitment to the international force in Afghanistan has been a part of that role. The international community is determined to bring peace and stability to this war-torn nation.
We want the Moslem world to be a willing participant in this process.
I know many of you may be wondering about the Government’s position on Iraq.
It is simply this – we do not want war but we do want Iraq returned to the fold of the international community.
To do this it must shed its weapons of mass destruction.
However, we will participate in no action against Iraq that does not have a United Nations mandate. Our contribution to any action that does take place is more likely to be humanitarian, than military.
We hope for peace in the Middle East and a resolution of the Palestinian question, through cooperation between Israel and the Arab world.
We hope that India and Pakistan, the two emerging powers, will be able to forge a non-nuclear future.
In conclusion, we hope that by using the example of New Zealand we will be able to show the world the advantages of peaceful dialogue, of valuing diversity, and of accepting people of all faiths and nationalities.
Thank you for coming today. I welcome you to this Forum and I remind you once again that this is an opportunity for you to raise your issues and your views.
Please feel free to take up a microphone. I am here to listen.