30 Jan 2021

Hui with government short notice but focused, Muslim leader says

8:26 am on 30 January 2021

A Muslim leader has held a hurried meeting with top officials about the government's nationwide series of hui on the mosque attacks.

Andrew Little heading into the Labour caucus where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will brief MPs on her ministerial preferences for the new government.

Minister in charge of the Royal Commission response Andrew Little. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Twenty-eight hui nationwide in the next three weeks for Muslims, and other faith and ethnic groups, will address questions about the Royal Commission's report and government response.

The Federation of Islamic Associations' Abdur Razzaq heads its response to the commission's report - but only got his invite to the first hui, in Wellington tomorrow, midweek.

He met the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet on Friday afternoon, to offer officials advice - including a list of holy days and festivals, when a turnout to hui might be lower.

"Inshallah, God willing, in the future, it'll be much better," he said.

Despite the short notice, their key concern that the hui agenda was too vague, and these would be a mere "talkfest", had been addressed, he said.

"It was very clear that what the intention has been, [is] these are preliminary meetings prior to a more structured approach, which we suggested," Razzaq said.

"So these are preliminary, basically 'get to know'."

They expect more structured meetings later in the year and have asked for the government to give the various communities the resources they need to prepare for and participate in those, he said.

"Because these are volunteers, charity organisations and individuals, as opposed to, you know, the government officials, who are quite well resourced."

However, previous calls for resourcing, such as for lawyers or a secretariat paid for by the Crown to help unpack the Royal Commission report for people, have gone unaddressed.

It remains unclear how many invitations had gone out to the hui.

Razzaq said the media should be allowed in, but the government has ruled that out.

"In line with the previous consultations in Christchurch, media are welcome to report from outside the venues, and we'll make ministers available after the consultations for interviews," a spokesperson for the Minister in charge of the Royal Commission response, Andrew Little said.

"However, the hui will be closed to media so people can speak freely and frankly to ministers."

The hui would help Little and the Minister for Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities Priyanca Radhakrishnan understand key concerns and priorities, they said.

The scepticism that has been expressed to RNZ is partly due to the track record of high-placed officials who repeatedly met hard-pressed community representatives about their fears over the growing threat from white supremacists, in the run-up to the 15 March 2019 massacre.

"The proof of the pudding will be once we see this thing," Razzaq said.

"There has been a lot of these, the community engagement and, you know, a lot of people were frustrated at no outcomes.

"In this case, given there's one coordinating minister [Little], it's a one-stop shop approach by the government, I think we can be very positive and we have to have that optimism that the professionalism is there within the DPMC."

However, it has not been the most auspicious of starts.

"We were surprised that it came at short notice," Razzaq said.

"You know, when you give people less than a week, in some cases, four or five days, [notice] for something so important."

This conflicted with the government urging people to turn up to give their views. "We're hoping for strong interest," the DPMC said. Yet it only put out a press release on Friday afternoon, after RNZ's enquiries in the morning.

"I could understand they were in a hurry to at least start the ball rolling," Razzaq said after talking with the officials.

"The mere fact that they did give us a call ... shows that they are very keen to listen. And hopefully they were also very keen to implement some of the recommendations we made.

"I'm sure in future it will be far more structured, more time."

The first hui, at 1pm on Sunday, clashes with prayers due at around 1.30pm.

However, the community realised they had to be practical given the other demands on ministers' and officials' time, he said.

As for media, "if we want to have societal change, if we want to have social inclusion, if we want to have all those positives that the Royal Commission talked about, the media has a very, very - and the Royal Commission talked about it - has a very pivotal role. So yes, I think the media should be included".

The hui for Muslims are split into those for all Muslims, and others for women and youth.

Razzaq questioned that segmentation with officials, and told RNZ "we'll just say, we'll move on from here and see how it goes".

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs