20 Mar 2013

Collins defends Devoy's appointment to top job

6:45 pm on 20 March 2013

Justice Minister Judith Collins has defended the appointment of Susan Devoy as Race Relations Commissioner, saying in 41 years a woman has never before had the job.

Ms Collins says she wasn't looking for a celebrity for the commissioner's role, and has denied that most of the people approached about it were celebrities.

"Frankly," Ms Collins says, "she's the 10th person in the job, the first woman, and that speaks volumes about the way in which women generally have been kept out of the race relations debate."

The minister says Dame Susan is strong, forthright and used to being in a minority as a woman serving on several boards over the years.

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

She says she feels she has the life skills and experience to be successful in her new role, because over the past 20 years she has worked in many organisations and developed an empathy towards all people.

Although she doesn't have a wealth of experience in race relations specifically, she says, the job isn't overly complicated.

Stellar sporting career

Dame Susan is director of Women Walking Ltd and a member and former chair of the Halberg Trust.

From 2000 to 2003 she was chief executive and chair of Sport Bay of Plenty and she has also served on the Auckland District Health Board.

In her stellar sporting career she won almost every important title in squash and was four times world champion before retiring in 1992.

She is also known for charity work, once walking the length of the country in 53 days to raise money for muscular dystrophy.

In 1998 she became one of the youngest New Zealanders ever knighted when at 34 she was made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.