Speech at the launch of the Ministry for Ethnic Communities

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā rau rangatira ma, tēna koutou, tēna koutou, tēna tatou katoa.

I greet you all in the 160 languages of Aotearoa, New Zealand, and in my mother tongue - Namaskaram.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging Ministerial and Parliamentary colleagues, and members of the Diplomatic Corps.

Today is significant. We’re here to celebrate the establishment of the Ministry for Ethnic Communities.

Today has been a long time coming. Our communities have been advocating for a Ministry for over a decade now. And I know this because I was once part of that call for greater representation.

Many of you are here today, and I thank you – and those beyond this hall – for your mahi and your perseverance.

It’s a privilege to be your Minister. I’m also proud to be part of a Government that has heard that call and responded to it. At this point, I want to particularly acknowledge my predecessor, Hon Jenny Salesa, and the former Undersecretary Michael Wood for their work, advocating for a Ministry, through the last term of Government.

Before I share a little more about the new Ministry I want to acknowledge the role that the Office of Ethnic Communities has played over the years.

OEC’s role over the years

20 years ago, Helen Clark’s Government established the Office of Ethnic Affairs.  At that time, in 2001, ethnic communities made up around 8 percent of the population. It was a small office that grew to around 17 people by 2018.

I wanted to know what its focus was at the time so I read the earliest press release I could find, dated 19 Jan 2000. Its purpose was on strengthening engagement, improving communication and cooperation between government and ethnic communities. It was a good start.

Over the years, the Office has supported 16 Ministers and our communities have grown significantly.

Last term, our Government funded a number of changes to strengthen the functions of the Office, including community engagement.

Today, the Office has over 40 staff working in communities across Aotearoa New Zealand, from Whangarei to Dunedin.

We also increased the Ethnic Communities Development Fund eightfold and expanded the criteria of what it could support.

Over recent years, OEC has supported our communities through some incredibly tough times – COVID-19 and the March 15th mosque attacks. OEC staff supported our communities on the ground along with other public sector agencies like the Police - and worked to connect Ministers, including the PM and senior government officials to Muslim communities in Canterbury once the report of the Royal Commission was released.

With regard to COVID 19, OEC is involved with the All Of Government response to COVID and is currently working with the Health Ministry to ensure that the needs of our ethnic communities are met as the COVID-19 vaccine is rolled out.

Anusha, to you and your team at OEC, I want to acknowledge the work you all have done and continue to do.

Significance of the Ministry Launch

Aotearoa today is a very different society.

With close to a million people who identify with an ethnic community, we are one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. We make up almost 20% of New Zealand’s population, that’s an increase of 45 percent since the 2013 Census.

We have over 213 ethnicities represented across Aotearoa and as I mentioned at the start, we collectively speak over 160 languages.

We are stronger because of our diversity, and not in spite of it.

And yet, we know there’s more work to be done to ensure that all of us feel safe, valued, heard, have a sense of belonging – as New Zealanders – and are able to participate fully in society.

For us to become a society that truly values our diversity as a strength, we need to take action to be more inclusive so that diversity can flourish.

This is the first time that our communities will have a Ministry, a Chief Executive whose sole focus is lifting the wellbeing of our communities, a Chief Executive with a seat at the top table, able to influence change across through the Government’s policy agency and across the public sector.

This is significant.

Aspirations for the Ministry and priorities

In establishing the Ministry, I was determined that the direction and strategy of the new Ministry are shaped by the priorities of the communities it serves.

Earlier this year, Minister Little and I held 33 hui nationwide with our Muslim communities, wider ethnic and faith communities on the Government’s response to the RCOI. We engaged with over 1000 people.

More recently, OEC engaged with about 600 people from ethnic communities, to ask them what success looks like and what was most important to them, and therefore what the Ministry should work on first.

Several key priority themes emerged from the engagement process:

  • There was a strong aspiration expressed by many for us to become a society that embraces diversity as a strength
  • The need for various sectors, including the education sector to value and respond to diverse needs;
  • Barriers to employment and leadership positions, including discrimination, was raised as a significant concern
  • Many who responded were also clear that Government services need to be accessible and delivered in a way that’s relevant to  ethnic communities and work in a way that connects communities

Many of the aspirations that were shared with us are on display around this hall.

While engagement is important – and will continue to be important as our communities grow, today is about taking the next step. To turn what we’ve heard into action.

The new Ministry will have the leadership, mana, and visibility that is needed to influence decision-making across government to ensure better outcomes for ethnic communities.

The priorities of the new Ministry, as agreed by Cabinet are as follows :

  • Take action to promote the value of diversity and improve inclusion
  • Ensure equitable provision of, and access to, government services for ethnic communities;
  • Develop and support initiatives to improve economic outcomes for ethnic communities, including addressing barriers to employment;
  • Work to connect and empower ethnic community groups.

The next step is to turn this into a work programme with tangible steps that will lift the wellbeing of our communities. And I will get on to this with our new CE very soon. In fact, we’ve already had an initial conversation on the work that lies ahead.

On that note, I’m pleased to welcome and congratulate Mervin Singham on his appointment as the inaugural Chief Executive of the new Ministry for Ethnic Communities.

The Public Service Commission led a robust recruitment process and I commend them for the thought and care that I know went into the process.

Mervin has a breadth of experience both with ethnic communities and working across the public sector at senior leadership levels.

And of course, he has lived experience of some of what we’re wanting to change. As do I.

I look forward to working with you, Mervin, and the rest of the team in the months to come.

A New Ministry needs a new Logo

And one has been developed for the Ministry for Ethnic Communities.

It has been designed in partnership with members from our ethnic communities, including our young people.

It represents our communities as a whole and points to the fact that we are unique individuals but powerful together.

It has a strong connection to Te Ao Māori.

It represents inclusivity and a celebration of who we are

It is grounded, solid, and strong. It reflects a sense of purpose.

You will see the logo from today.

The pins you received today feature the logo and I encourage you to wear them with pride.

[LOGO REVEAL]

I want to ensure that our communities:

  • Have doors that are open to them
  • voices that are amplified across government
  • the opportunity for all individuals to celebrate what makes them unique and feel a sense of belonging
  • and are confident of the strength in our differences and power in the collective.

The Ministry for Ethnic Communities – Nau mai, haere mai.

This is your place to stand.

Closing remarks

Nāku te rourou, nāu te rourou, ka ora ai te iwi

With your food basket and my food basket, our people will thrive.

Thank you all, once again, for being here and the work that you do to create a more socially cohesive Aotearoa.

Tēna koutou, tēna koutou, tēna koutou katoa.