Review seeks to lay Pacific controversy to rest

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres has released a review into the media and academic controversy that exposed a quarter of a million New Zealanders to accusations they were an underclass because of their Pacific Island heritage.

The lead story of the Dominion Post on 20 May, 2008 was headlined, Pacific migrants ‘drain on economy’. It reported on a paper to be presented to an international conference by Massey University economist Dr Greg Clydesdale. In summary the paper reported that: “Pacific Islanders poor educational attainment, crime rates, poor education and low employment were creating an underclass and a drain on the economy.”

Pacific people were angered and dismayed by the claims and subsequent coverage. De Bres initiated a review pursuant to the Human Rights Commission’s statutory role of encouraging harmonious race relations and promoting respect for human rights.

He said at the Diversity Forum in Auckland today, “A large group of New Zealanders felt maligned because of their race and the controversy raised issues that deserved further exploration.”

The review notes that Dr Clydesdale’s paper contained only a few paragraphs about Pacific peoples and relied on out-of-date data that gave a misleading impression of the situation. Subsequent peer reviews were critical of the paper’s academic standard.

The Dominion Post accepted a complaint about the accuracy of its headline and has since published a thorough feature on the issue to set the record straight.

In the review Mr de Bres said that the controversy highlighted four intersecting issues:

  • the responsibility of academics to maintain high standards in the research and publication of their work
  • the responsibility of the media to be careful, accurate and balanced when publishing controversial claims about vulnerable groups
  • the responsibility and accountability of universities to uphold ethical and professional standards as an integral part of academic freedom
  • the vulnerability to racial prejudice of distinct population groups that experience social and economic inequality.

“This review does not question the right of academics and journalists to pursue their profession vigorously as an integral part of a democratic society. It does ask what responsibilities come with the exercise of those rights,” said Mr de Bres.

The review presents current data that shows that while Pacific peoples in New Zealand do suffer inequalities the trends over recent years have been positive in many areas and it is important that efforts to address disparities continue.

The review was released as part of the 2008 Diversity Forum in Auckland. In conjunction with its release, a panel of expert speakers on media, Pacific economics and migration addressed the audience on the issues arising from the controversy.

Mr de Bres said, “I am hoping the misconceptions can now be laid to rest and we can focus on the way ahead.”

Pacific Peoples in New Zealand can be downloaded here (Word).

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