21 Mar 2013

Waitangi Day is special, says Dame Susan Devoy

7:26 pm on 21 March 2013

New Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy says Waitangi Day is important and her earlier criticism reflected a belief that other people do not take it seriously.

In a Bay of Plenty Times column earlier this year, Dame Susan was critical of what she called the political shenanigans of Waitangi Day.

She wrote that New Zealand needs a day that doesn't necessarily replace Waitangi Day, but complements it.

Dame Susan told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Thursday that Waitangi Day is about celebrating the signing of the Treaty.

"What I would like to see is everyone acknowledge how important and special that day is," she said, "and I don't currently see that."

Dame Susan said race relations is not solely about Maori and Pakeha but encompasses a whole range of things.

She takes up the job on 1 April, replacing long-serving Joris de Bres, who has held the position for 10 years.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Judith Collins has again defended Dame Susan's appointment saying comments she made about Waitangi Day, as well as about the burqa, are perfectly acceptable.

In a newspaper article in February 2012, Dame Susan was critical of what she called the "political shenanigans" of Waitangi Day.

The year before she wrote that she found the burqa disconcerting and Muslim women should accept they would sometimes have to disrobe in order to allow identification.

She also said New Zealanders should respect women's personal choice to wear a burqa, without being ignorant and abusive.

Justice Minister, Judith Collins, told reporters at Parliament there is nothing in those comments that would clash with Dame Susan's new role as she had made clear she was completely opposed to any legislation against them.