Call for institutional racism investigation

8:37 am on 15 September 2016

Former government minister Dame Tariana Turia is calling for an investigation into institutional racism in the public sector.

Tariana Turia

Tariana Turia believes there is strong evidence of racism in the public sector. Photo: RNZ

In one of the first announcements of her government, British Prime Minister Theresa May said she would launch an audit into racial disparities across public services like education, health and justice.

Dame Tariana said the New Zealand government should be bold and follow suit.

"I would like to think that a brave government, an honest government, a government that wants to be pono and tika, would totally accept that this is what is going on and do something about it."

She believes there is strong evidence of institutional racism in the public sector.

"I've for a long time said that the institutions of this country are institutionally racist, and I continue to believe that today, because the stats bear that out."

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy agrees with Dame Tariana, said there was a "plethora of research" on this and both Māori and Pakeha researchers, particularly in health, had been studying the topic for years.

But not enough was being done to address the problem.

"What is it going to take for someone to implement the recommendations that have come out of that research?"

Dame Susan said institutional racism was about one group having decision-making power over another.

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy

Dame Susan Devoy said not enough was being done to address institutional racism. Photo: Supplied

"If you've got predominantly Pakeha, generally all male, sitting around making decisions for the rest of the population which includes Māori and Pacific and our growing ethnic community, then it's really hard to see how they can be making decisions when those voices aren't represented at the table.

"Māori have seen that for years and years ... People have been making these decisions but not looking at what the consequences of those have been."

Grant Berghan, co-chair of a symposium on institutional racism held in Auckland this week, said the British government's intention to eradicate the problem was an aim shared by those at the conference.

"It's something we should do here and I'd be very keen to push for that with our government. One of the things we want to do here is, we actually want to get rid of institutional racism. We think we can achieve that."

Dame Susan said there were signs that those making decisions in government agencies were willing to change, but action was needed.

"I'm quite heartened by the fact that Peter Hughes, the new State Services Commissioner, has signalled he is going to look at diversity and direct that through his CEs.

"But it needs to go wider than that.

"Firstly, what is institutional racism, because it's very hard to address something if people don't know what it is."