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Speech

Diversity Action Awards

Issue date: 
Monday, 25 August 2014
Speaker: 
Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, GNZM, QSO

Rau rangatira mā, e kui mā, e koro mā, e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou.  Kia ora tātou katoa.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, warm greetings to you all.

I specifically acknowledge: Hon Nicky Wagner, Minister of the Crown and Hon Ruth Dyson, Member of Parliament; Race Relations Commissioner, Dame Susan Devoy; Executive Director of the Human Rights Commission, Joanna Collinge and Chief Executive of Te Rūnanga o Ngai Tāhu, Arihia Bennett - tēnā koutou katoa.

Thank you for inviting me here today to help present the Diversity Action Awards.  A little over a week ago I was here in Christchurch presenting 27 New Zealand Bravery Awards.  On that occasion, I met some courageous people who had put their lives at risk to help others during the rescue efforts following the 22 February 2011 earthquake.  It was a very special day for the recipients and their families.  It was also a reminder that it’s often during the very worst times that we get to see the best in humankind.

The Diversity Action Programme, Forum and Awards are another reminder that good can come from shocking circumstances.  Ten years ago, the vandalism of two Jewish cemeteries in Wellington prompted the wider community to take action towards building a more tolerant, inclusive and harmonious society.

A decade on, we can see the results of that action.  The 250 member organisations, now part of the Diversity Action Programme, have set an agenda of celebrating diversity in New Zealand’s society – inclusion, equality and harmony in all segments of our society.

At this Diversity Forum you have been discussing the challenges and opportunities offered in an increasingly diverse New Zealand.  Valuing diversity in the employment market is a significant opportunity for New Zealand, as much as it is for our refugees and newest New Zealanders.  I hope that you have been enthused and energised by your conversations, reflections and impressions that you will take away with you. 

At the end of this conference, it’s only right that we should use that energy and enthusiasm to acknowledge and celebrate the work done to promote and encourage positive race relations and value diversity.  Today we will recognise twelve groups and organisations.  However, you all can feel proud of your efforts and what you have achieved so far.

The diversity of New Zealand’s population is quickening in our globalised world.  Currently, more than one million New Zealanders claim to have been born somewhere else other than in New Zealand.  There are New Zealanders who also identify as Macedonian, Malay, Moroccan and Manx – and that’s just the letter M! 

Fifty years ago many New Zealanders would have seen themselves living in a Southern Hemisphere mini-Britain.  Now, we are living in a cultural melting pot, more aware of our closest neighbours in the Pacific and Asia than at any time in our past.  Smith and Wilson are still the most common surnames in this country; however last year they were joined in the top 10 by Wang and Singh.  That fact is a talking point today, but in ten or twenty years’ time, I have no doubt it will be considered unremarkable.

The late publisher Malcolm Forbes once gave the definition of diversity as “the art of thinking independently together.”  It's about knowing “who I am and what I am”.  It’s what makes us both unique and yet alike.  It’s about allowing people to be who they are as well as acknowledging their place as part of a greater whole. 

The twelve groups and organisations being honoured at these Awards have done this.  And in doing so they have set the benchmark for others working to achieve the aims of the Diversity Action Group.  They have implemented programmes, delivered activities and enriched their communities. 

Many of the organisations have been with the Diversity Action programme since the beginning, and as such have helped define the programme's intent.  They have been key participants in the conversation about who we are, what modern New Zealand society looks like and what we should aspire to.

Some of these groups have enabled the wider community to experience or gain knowledge of other cultures, religions and languages.  Others have helped people retain and cherish their identity, while assisting them to find their place in the wider community.  The important thing is that all these groups are committed to honouring and respecting the differences between us, while at the same time appreciating and celebrating our similarities.  There is a Maori whakatauki or proverb that captures the essence of diversity.  It goes: “Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi – With your basket and my basket the people will live”.

Congratulations to all those being recognised today.  Your commitment and dedication is well rewarded.  I thank the rest of you also for your care and concern for your communities and your country.

I leave you with the words of Martin Luther King Jr who said “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

Enjoy the rest of the awards ceremony, and like you I look forward to hearing about the work of the award winners.

Kia ora huihui tātou katoa

Last updated: 
Monday, 25 August 2014

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