A silly briefing paper

Michael Field at the SST reports:

In a briefing paper for the new minister, the Ethnic Affairs Office said there was a push within some communities to have their cultural rights enshrined in law.

“Ethnic communities are keen to discuss the development of a multicultural policy to entrench the civil, political, social and language rights of ethnic people in New Zealand,” the briefing says.

The head of the Ethnic Affairs Office should have never let such a loose briefing go to the Minister. A sweeping statement such as “ethnic communities are keen to discuss …” should not be used. Not all ethnic communities are the same. You can’t speak on behalf of all ethnic communities, especially on something so potentially controversial. If some people in some ethnic communities are keen to discuss something, you should say “Some members of the xxx and yyy ethnic communities are likely to want to discuss”.

The briefing paper does not specify what ethnic groups want entrenched in any constitution, but points to the main inputs coming from the Federation of Islamic Associations, the Indian Association and the Chinese Association.

Speaking from Saudi Arabia last night, NZ Federation of Islamic Associations president Anwar Ghani told the Sunday Star-Times that any changes his body would push for would have to be “simple and workable”.

When asked if that could include Sharia, he responded: “No, we are not talking about that.”

Instead the federation backed transferring statutory holidays based on Christian festivals to dates of religious significance in their own culture.

“If there was recognition, particularly from a faith perspective, to substitute the holidays so they can enjoy the festivities without taking their annual leave, those are the kind of things which we were looking at it,” he said.

“It has to be something simple which is going to work – we do not want to create layers of complications that might make it difficult as a nation for us to progress together.”

The Federation generally takes a very moderate and sensible stance on issues, and it is good to see their president say they are not pushing sharia law. The has effectively beat the issue up by accident.

As for the idea of having the dates of some holidays flexible, I think there is merit in looking at it. It may not be practical to do in some cases (such as where an employer shuts on a public holiday), but why should Muslims have to take annual leave for their religious holidays, and Jews annual leave for their religious holidays, while Christians get both Christmas and Easter off.

And Indian Central Association president Paul Singh Bains said an ethnic constitution would be wrong.

“It is sending the wrong message to policymakers. Once we are permanent residents here, or citizens, we are Kiwis.”

He dismissed any notion the Indian community wanted such changes. “There is no consensus for us to have a separate law,” he said, although he acknowledged some community beliefs did come from “ancient days”.

“We don’t think there should be a law for each community. That would make a nonsense of things.”

Excellent views.

Auckland Chinese Community Centre chairman Arthur Loo was unaware of the briefing paper or if anyone within his community wanted legislation protecting their cultural rights.

Loo warned against any of the potential policy changes in the briefing paper.

“As a New Zealander, I think it should be basically one law for everbody, a law that reflects New Zealand and its core values,” he said. “If you are talking about a `multicultural policy’, I can’t see it being any more than being a touchy-feely statement that we will be all embracing of different cultures, be welcoming and all that stuff.”

This is one of the danger of very small government agencies or offices. They sometimes attract staff who are ideologically passionate about what they see as the cause, and end up being more zealous in pushing for policy than the actual communities themselves.

I think it is a good thing about NZ, that the heads of our chinese, indian and islamic communities organisations have all said they want one law for all.

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