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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Susan Devoy: "ashamed to be a New Zealander"

Squash is incredibly boring. I associate it with sweat, and as an individual pursuit - the point being to bang a ball around inside a large box as stress relief. I get the feeling a squash player would be quite content to just bash the ball around without anyone else being in the box at the time. It all makes for the worst possible spectator sport: worse than lawn bowls, worse than yachting. All anyone in NZ knows about the professional sport is that Susan Devoy was a world champion through the 1980s until the early '90s.

Since then she went on to use her fame and damehood (which she received very early on for her sporting success) to pick up the odd trust position here and there and do a bit for charity around the traps as well as work on her own business ventures. So, that's nice and everything, and she certainly got lucky with her knighthood from what I can recall at the time, but why does that qualify her for the position she has just been given by the National government?

NZ Herald:
Dame Susan Devoy has been appointed as the new Race Relations Commissioner.
"Dame Susan is a proud New Zealander who is highly motivated to contribute positively to New Zealand society," Justice Minister Judith Collins said today.
"Her communication and relationship management skills, coupled with experience working with diverse groups, are key areas of strength."
"Dame Susan has sound governance experience and mature judgement. I am confident she will be a sensible and intelligent voice for race relations issues," Collins said.
Devoy will replace Joris de Bres, who has recently completed his second term in office.

A few trustee positions and her own directorships give her some governance experience, sure; and she must have mixed with a few different people in her time on the international sporting circuit, sure; but really? That is all general and undistinguished: why is she particularly suited to be the Race Relations Commissioner? I can't find anything compelling or even indicative that she would want, or would aspire, or would do a good job, in such a role.

Devoy's appointment by a National government is the better indication of why she was chosen. The Tories have made all manner of inappropriate and crony appointments to boards, but the ones overseeing people's rights are the ones to be alarmed about as they have the potential to influence policy in sensitive and frontline issues of concern for disempowered minorities. The selection of old Nats, Brian Neeson and Ravi Musuku, to the Human Rights Commission is the sort of conservative and reactionary forces with which National are stacking these committees. Devoy looks to be is another one.

I had the impression she was a thin-lipped, pecking, prickly piece of work from previous bits in the media over the years, so where is she at lately? She writes a column for the BoP Times. Her one for Waitangi Day last year is a classic piece of Pakeha mythology and that peculiar grevience mode the white people threatened by Maori exhibit - a yearning for it to be all like how it was in the past when the natives knew their place:

The reality is that most New Zealanders either couldn't care less or are frustrated that what should be a day of national celebration is marred by political shenanigans.

Not much different from the political posturing at Ratana the previous week.

The saving grace is at least this year we do get a public holiday. Last year, we all felt cheated that Waitangi Day fell on a weekend and we were denied that.
Waitangi has been hijacked and if it can never be really seen as a day of national celebration then perhaps the time has come to choose another true New Zealand day.

We only need to look across the Tasman to witness how Australians celebrate their day.

As a relatively young nation, we have so much to be proud of and the opportunity to be part of our own history.

We are a nation of many cultures and identities and this is not reflected on February 6.

We need a day that doesn't necessarily replace Waitangi Day but complements it.

That doesn't mean we lose sight of the significance and meaning of the Treaty but an opportunity to recognise that New Zealand is a multicultural society continuing to evolve as a nation of many people and not just Maori and Pakeha.

A recent poll showed more than 70 per cent of New Zealanders were in favour of a new holiday.

This would leave Waitangi Day to be the day that recognises the importance of Maori, but the door open for a day that we don't feel ashamed to be a New Zealander; a day where we don't only focus on the grievances of the past; a day that is positive and uplifting and, above all else, makes us feel good about ourselves. After all isn't that the real meaning of holiday?


Enough wretched cant.

To an aggrieved Pakeha brought up in the white man's mono-culture and the state policy of white superiority - such as Devoy - Waitangi Day is a hassle because it is the one day in the year those white people, the beneficiaries of the colonial project, might have to confront the unpleasant historical facts that explain how the white man came to rule the whole country from an innocuous and benign Treaty with Maori in 1840. She regards the telling of the Maori position - rather than acceptance of the earlier NZ government propaganda - as being "hijacked". Like it was supposed to be for the Pakeha (and their Maori kupapa friends) to celebrate... until those uppity Maori went and ruined it for everyone... That's what she is saying here.  That she implies she feels "ashamed" is at least a useful insight.

So does this stereotypical (and essentially redneck) reaction to Waitangi Day and her limited - or non-existent - understanding of the Maori perspective qualify her to be Race Relations Commissioner? I would have thought the opposite. She will be just another conservative, intolerant cipher in the heirarchy of New Zealand. And we've got her for 5 years, so let's hope I am grossly mistaken.

UPDATE 21/03/2013:
I was on Michael Laws' show this morning on this topic. We agreed she had an ordinary, conventional Pakeha NZer's understanding of Waitangi Day (and race relations generally I suppose), but disagreed that this could be a qualification for the post - what seemed to be the only qualification for the post beyond being female (if Judith Collins is to be believed).  The RRC isn't paid six figures for nothing. If they wanted ordinary they should pay them ordinary, but they don't because the candidate is expected to be exceptionally experienced in matters of race relations. Devoy says in  today's NZ Herald:
Dame Susan told the Herald she had done very little work in race relations but had a great interest in human rights.
"It's about doing the right things for people, doing the right thing for all New Zealanders, it's about understanding people and the issues that go with groups as opposed to having any experience with racial minority groups."
She admits she has no real experience with "racial minority groups". That in itself would be, if not a disqualification, surely a distinct disadvantage to her. How does her CVcompare to the other candidates? Were there any other candidates? -  or did Collins just choose National's symbolic representative based on gender (and after ten males in a row it's difficult to argue it shouldn't be a female) and based more importantly on demonstrating National's anti-"PC" credentials to the electorate.

Devoy's cursory interview yesterday with Duncan Garner at Radio Live is insightful. She doesn't indicate any real passion or comprehension of the role, and she doesn't say why she applied or how she got the position. More questions than answers:
Devoy: "I feel very honoured to have got this appointment"
Garner: "Is this something you were pushing for, or were you quite surprised you were shoulder-tapped?"
Devoy: "um, yeah oh nah, ah, to be perfectly honest I was a little surprised. Ah, if anything I always, um expressed an interest in the disability, um, work of the commission. Um, but yeah, I mean sometimes you spend your life thinking, ah, why you can't do something rather than why you can, and um, yeah no, I'm very excited about this challenge..."

She wasn't the only one surprised. She sounded woefully under-equipped for something as fraught and complex as reconciling racial differences. Maybe Collins considers reconciling a bank account to be adequate qualifications for reconciling the nation.

Garner: "Do you think that people in NZ have genuine grievances though?"
Devoy: "um... [long pause] hmm... can't really say that at this stage. I will have a view about that later, I assure you."

At this stage she doesn't know whether anyone in NZ has genuine grievances? The Commissioner should already be active in this field rather than this million dollar sinecure (the salary over 5 years)  being a learning experience for them.

From Oy, Devoy!


At 20/3/13 4:34 pm, Blogger Rangi said...

Don't use the C-word Tim, you'll probably upset someone. Great post!

At 20/3/13 7:29 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads up on Susan, I don't care if she is political appt - all of these are. But her comments abt Waitangi Day, are the kind of comments that a race relations conciliator would find borderline. Bring back Jois.

Cheers Tim

harry r

At 20/3/13 9:48 pm, Blogger Tim said...

Thank Christ! I was beginning to think I might be the only person that thought as you do. When I heard "susan devoy to be the next Race relations conciliator" I wondered whether someone was pulling my tit.

Ah well, let 'em have fun. They might as well while they can. The harder they rise ..... the harder they fall.

At 20/3/13 9:54 pm, Blogger Tim said...

Ekshly, they're probably just running out of hacks to stack on the various boards and it hasn't yet dawned on them that stacking the deck can be counter-productive.
After all, Chris Finalayson, and one or two others are still ektiv in polltiks, so as yet they're unavailable to slip into comfy little pozies.

At 20/3/13 11:16 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you should do a bit more research into the Devot family history and in particular their relationship with Rororua Maori before descending into such racist anti pakeha diatribe. Idiot.

At 21/3/13 9:25 am, Anonymous Ransom said...

Let's hope you are mistaken too, but I doubt it. Another of Judith Collin's attempts to win enough friends and influence enough people to make NZ's second National Female PM. She's delusional.

At 21/3/13 1:34 pm, OpenID turangawaewae said...

Research her links with the Rotorua Maori community? Lol, I guess that is contemporary speak for "Hey, she's got friends who are Maori". Yawn. Thanks for a great post, it is bang on in every sense. Her newspaper article on Waitangi is illuminating. Perhaps they should make her appointment explicity: Race Relations Commissioner - Pakeha. On no that's right, we either elide the issue of ethnicity altogether (we're all New Zealanders) or designate representation to minority communities.

At 21/3/13 2:21 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reminds me of John Keys quip that being a money trader and making instant decisions on the data was no different from being the PM. Susan Devoy was a great squash player just like she will be a race conciliator. ahem ( choke). Suppose it could have been Paul Holmes if he had been alive.!

At 21/3/13 4:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 21/3/13 4:11 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

selection process...

At 22/3/13 6:56 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe she's beenhired to keep hitting racial greivances back against the wall?

At 22/3/13 9:44 pm, Anonymous Te Whatu Ki Te Ao Huna said...

Interesting comments all of them...

Ae marika!!!

This appointment is particularly outrageous and embarrassing but somehow extremely funny...

Makes a mockery of the Human Rights Act 1993 and section 11 that deals with the Criteria for the Appointment of Commissioners..

.its hard to see how her bio which is online 'fits well' with the criteria...

Go Annette Sykes' action for the appointment to be terminated because of failure to follow due process.

Even Chris Laidlaw also well known for his sporting achievements and appointed back in 1989 had way better quals for the job of Race Relations Conciliator and Human Rights Commissioner.

I'm sorry Ms Devoy no expertise in the area of race relations, a distorted view of the Treaty of Waitangi and looking to Australia for a big ups on 'their' Australia Day have you ever heard of the Lost Generations, the principle of terra nullius, international law and the doctrine of contra preferentum...I doubt it but you do have so called common sense... good luck with that...

I can hear Judith's final words of advice ' Don't worry Suzy you're a Dame if you don't understand anything show em your squash racquet'

At 24/3/13 3:41 pm, Blogger MCA said...

could have been Holmes!?!@
Christ no!!

At 25/3/13 5:41 pm, Anonymous Melanie said...

Thoughtful piece, thank-you. As a moderately affluent female pakeha NZer I was extremely disappointed with her appointment, particularly following her interview on Radio NZ, which was in similar vein to the Garner interview reprinted here. Surely there must have been some other female candidate with better qualifications than "living in Rotorua" and "being a woman on a corporate board"

Hopefully she will at least do no harm ...

At 26/3/13 9:50 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An amazing women who has put NZ on the map. She has done a lot for charity and will continue to do so. Easy for all of you top sit back and criticize when you are a washed up failure of a journalist. Half the person of Dame Susan. You should be proud of your country and support this amazing women.

A bunch of cunts to say the least.

At 27/3/13 10:55 am, Anonymous awbraae said...

This is a terrible appointment, but squash is a brilliant sport. On the point where you call it boring, you have no idea what you are talking about.

At 24/4/13 2:50 pm, Anonymous Kiwi in oz said...

"We only need to look across the Tasman to witness how Australians celebrate their day."

Many indigenous Australians mark their Australia Day (January 26) as Invasion Day. There is certainly no consensus over here that the day should be celebrated rather than mourned.

Shows the kind of ignorant and ill-informed people the National Party pick to front an office of this kind in New Zealand.


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