Published Challenge Weekly, 2002. As Race Relations Commissioner, Joris de Bres aims to recognise the status of Maori, create a culture of accepting migrants, and foster harmonious and positive relationships between different ethnicities. Mr de Bres is driven by the influence of his grandparents and father who were Presbyterian ministers from the Netherlands.
“I’ve grown up in a Christian home. I’m not a practising Christian, but what I do is practise Christian values. I think there is a lot I can bring personally from my up- bringing,” Mr de Bres says.
Mr de Bres came to New Zealand 46 years ago as part of the earlier wave of post war European migration. “I understand some of the issues of coming into a new society and settling there. The number of people New Zealand can absorb at any given time is a matter for debate and assessment, so I don’t have a problem with people debating how many people should come to New Zealand. I do have a problem if that debate is informed by prejudice about different ethnic groups and different countries. I think we should be looking at the basis of the skills and qualities they bring rather than their race and ethnic origin.
“What the immigration debate should be about is not what colour people are, or what their ethnic origin is, but what they can contribute to New Zealand and what we need.”
Mr de Bres took up the reigns in late September in the office of the Human Rights Commission that recently merged with the Race Relations Office.
The position does not engage with racial discrimination and harassment complaints.
“Race relations, at the end, are fundamentally human rights issues,” says Mr de Bres.
“My particular focus will be those human rights issues that relate to questions of racial discrimination and more positively issues that relate to harmony between peoples.
“Fostering positive relationships is fostering a diverse society where people’s particular contribution in relation to their ethnic heritage, whatever that may be, is recognised and treasured and seen as part of what makes us New Zealanders.”
Mr de Bres says he’d like to apply the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi [the document between Maori and the then British crown] to contemporary New Zealand life. “We have to find ways of doing that in contemporary society.”
And do this while recognising the status of Maori, he says. “There is a fundamental issue about recognising and preserving the status of Maori in New Zealand. There is general agreement that Maori historical grievances such as land dispossession and language should be addressed. This process is well under way. The risk is that if we settle Maori historical grievances then the Treaty of Waitangi is finished.
“The big question is around whether there is acceptance that the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi should apply to the future. They are still basic principles of living together so the Treaty remains a good and precise template for the future.”