27 Aug 2019

New Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon wants to target 'hate speech, phobias and isms'

12:04 pm on 27 August 2019

The new race relations commissioner, Meng Foon, says his first moves in the role will be to continue the debate on "hate speech, phobias, the isms in our country".

Gisborne District mayor Meng Foon

Former Gisborne District mayor and new race relations commissioner, Meng Foon. Photo: New Zealand Government

Mr Foon told Morning Report "pockets" of New Zealand had problems with racism.

"That's part of my role, to actually continue to allow people to have space to tell these stories, hold organisations and government to account and continue to educate, expose and eradicate racism in our country.

"The systemic racism, the structural racism, the unconscious bias ... that sort of racism is not tolerated... So it continues every day in life and racism is dangerous. It actually can kill people."

Although he had just started in the role, he did have some plans, he said.

"The first thing in the short term is actually continue the conversations [to] allow our community to speak, debate on hate speech, phobias, the isms in our country, continue to educate, encourage government, you know, government actually receives the highest complaints regarding racism, so it needs to work at the top.

"If it can work at the top, hopefully, it actually filters down into the rest of society that racism is not tolerated.

"I don't support hate speech that actually causes harm and unsafe communities, violence in the communities, and degradation of dignity. However, the right to actually voice your opinion is still very important, as long as it's not detrimental to individuals and organisations.

When asked about better education of the New Zealand Wars and the Treaty of Waitangi, he said: "That's a great thought, because in Gisborne and Te Rawhiti we've started that journey. And it's actually been training formational for our children.

"So if we can take that example right across the nation, that will be great. And understanding where we came from, understanding what we did, will bode well for the future."

On increased nationalism and populism around the world, he said: "I am concerned, there are pockets around the world that actually have those extremist type thoughts."

However, the youth were showing him that New Zealand had a "wonderful future" with "great, bright kids and caring kids".

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs