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Tariana Turia interview on racism and Paul Holmes' 'cheeky darkie' comments

26 September 2003

Linda Clark: Paul Holmes' 'Cheeky Darkie' comments have well and truly got you worked up. In all honesty, this programme has never before received so many e-mails of complaint on a single subject in a single day.

99 percent of you find his remarks racist and offensive and you find his apology self-serving. As you will have heard, a producer on his television programme, who is Samoan, quit the show yesterday in protest.

Well, we approached Bill Ralston, Paul Holmes' boss at TVNZ, to talk about this. He refused to be interviewed. He says the media is simply exalting in the fall of a great man. You will understand that's a direct quote.

Anyway, that's not the end of the matter because the Broadcasting Standards Authority has received more than 50 complaints about Paul Holmes' comments. Someone who has been outspoken about racism in New Zealand in the past is Associate Maori Affairs Minister Tariana Turia. She joins me now.

Good morning to you.

Tariana Turia: Good morning.

Linda Clark: Tell me your reaction to what Paul Holmes said.

Tariana Turia: Well, I mean, I'd be as outraged as anybody else, Linda, but I think that the issue really is, that Paul's attitude is not dissimilar to hundreds of thousands of others, actually, and within every part of our lives in this country, unfortunately, we've got very, very racist people.

Linda Clark: So the racism is just below the surface? Is that what you're saying?

Tariana Turia: Oh, absolutely, absolutely, and I think that he displayed that, actually, you know, if you think about it. He's saying he didn't mean to, you know, it was just a flippant comment and all the rest of it, but it was a racist comment, and obviously he must have thought those things to have even uttered them.

And I think that that's what happens quite a lot. People don't think they're racist and people hate being accused of it, but I think that many, many people harbour racist thoughts without even really realising that that's what they are.

Linda Clark: See, Paul Holmes certainly doesn't regard himself a racist and when we talked to him yesterday morning he was at pains to say that if anyone looked at his record they would find that he's never been a Maori basher, he said, he's always been pro immigration he said, he loves having a diversity of cultures living in New Zealand.

Tariana Turia: Well, I mean, that's how we excuse what's really underneath, isn't it? I mean, there are people who have probably had the misfortune to be interviewed at times by Mr. Holmes who would probably disagree that, you know, that he doesn't bear those kind of thoughts. It's not beyond him to continue to highlight particular issues that affect Maori people and others, so I don't think that he can sweep it all under the carpet by saying that he loves everybody and that he's always supported diversity etcetera, etcetera. All of us can say that. All of us can stand up and say that we want diversity, we want this, we want that, but underneath it all, you know, do we really?

Linda Clark: Well, he's found himself with some very powerful allies. I mean we had the former Race Relations Commissioner on the programme yesterday, Gregory Fortuin, saying that he knows Paul well, Paul isn't a racist. He thinks that Paul was just silly.

Tariana Turia: Well, you know, I'm very surprised that Gregory would think that a racist comment was just a silly comment. After all, Gregory better than many other people would know what racism is all about, and I think that to, you know, to then say that this was just a silly comment, when he said it more than once, actually, I think that's to, number one, belittle Kofi Annan but, more importantly, to belittle the whole institution of racism that's experienced by many people in this country, on a daily basis, actually.

Linda Clark: Doesn't it ... shouldn't we take into account, though, that he has apologised so utterly?

Tariana Turia: Well, you know, I don't think that alters the attitude, does it. You know, I think that many people over the years have committed quite racist acts in this country and they've always had an excuse for doing it. I mean, if we look at our history, there's always been an excuse for why those things have happened. Well, you know, some people are really tired of the excuses actually.

Linda Clark: Well, the Race Relations Conciliator, the current Race Relations Conciliator, seems to be saying to us all, 'Take into account that he's apologised, that's part of the process, that's part of the healing ...'

Tariana Turia: Yes, well ...

Linda Clark: You don't agree with that?

Tariana Turia: Well, I mean, I think that you have to have experienced racism to know the way in which it affects people quite deeply, and I'm intolerant of it, I have to say, extremely intolerant of it.

Linda Clark: I have been intrigued by some of the comments critical of Paul Holmes who also say ... Phil Goff is in the paper saying much ... I'm paraphrasing it, I don't have the story in front of me, but he's in the paper this morning saying 'It's terrible, it's offensive, but everybody likes Paul and it's ...' You know, that's ...

Tariana Turia: That excuses it, does it?

Linda Clark: Well, does it?

Tariana Turia: No, it doesn't. No, it doesn't. I mean I don't think there's any excuse for racism, absolutely not, and I think that a lot of people who have worked extremely hard in this country to rid us of the racism that exists would be astounded that we would think that ... it's OK. It's not OK and, you know ... It's like violence, there's no excuse, it's not OK. Racism is a form of violence and it's not OK.

Linda Clark: But if you are a violent person and you apologise to your victim, isn't that ... I mean, what more can someone do? You have to move on.

Tariana Turia: Well, I don't think that people who have behaved violently, and who have said 'Sorry' have got a smack on the hand, and people have said, well, you know, 'Hey, you're sorry so it's OK, you can just move on'. That's not the way it works here, Linda, and we all know that. I think that racism has been the cause of huge violence right throughout the world and also in this country. It is inexcusable, and I think that people are really tired of high profile people thinking that they can make racist comment and get away with it by just saying 'Sorry, I'm not normally a racist'.

Linda Clark: So what would you do with Paul Holmes?

Tariana Turia: Well, I don't want to limit this discussion to just Paul Holmes because, at the end of the day, there are many Paul Holmes' in this country. I think that we've got a huge issue in this country with racism. We bury it and pretend it isn't going on around us, but it is just sitting beneath the surface. One only has to listen to Radio Pacific to hear it on a daily basis. So I think that we've got huge problems. If we are to build any sense of unity in this country, then we should be brave enough, number one, to name it when we hear it or see it, and to put a stop to it. We can't, as a society, just accept it and think that it's OK because it will continue.

Linda Clark: Well, yeah, I mean I take your point that this is wider than Paul Holmes, but there are very few New Zealanders ... In fact I don't think I can think of any, really, who are as influential as Paul Holmes.

Tariana Turia: Absolutely, and that's all the more reason why I think there is incredible disappointment right throughout the country that he, of all people, should expose his own racist attitude.

Linda Clark: Well, TVNZ says now, it's nothing to do with them. They don't want to talk about it, they don't want to ... We don't know whether they've talked about it with Paul, we know nothing. Is that OK?

Tariana Turia: Well, I think that TV New Zealand, others who employ Paul, have to understand that, as a country, we have to stand up and say that racism is not acceptable in any form whatsoever. There is no excuse for it. We will not tolerate it. If it's tolerated from Paul Holmes, then quite frankly it will be tolerated from anybody. It is intolerable, it is unacceptable, and I don't believe that it should be just swept under the carpet.

Linda Clark: There will be some, however, who think 'Oh look, you know, this is all political correctness. I mean I know it's offensive ...'

Tariana Turia: Oh, I get sick of that, I get sick of that, too. That's how they bury it, by saying it's politically correct. I get tired of hearing those words. It isn't political correctness to name racism. That's not being PC. You know, I believe that all of us, if we are to show leadership on any issue, we have to be intolerant of issues such as racism. Racism, as I've said, worldwide has created huge problems for many, many people of colour. It's not acceptable.

Linda Clark: Do you feel ... I mean, you're obviously a high achieving Maori woman. Do you feel that some people ... I mean, in terms of confronting racism ... What Holmes was doing here is that he was denigrating Kofi Annan's achievements, or actually his attitude. He wasn't ... He didn't ... He's got no agreement, he doesn't think he's achieving anything, he's not a great fan of Kofi Annan, but he was denigrating him, not because he thinks ... not in a way that said 'He's a terrible bureaucrat' or 'He's a hopeless diplomat' but in saying that he was a black man. Do you feel that people do that with you too? That your ... however much you achieve, if someone wants to knock down your achievements or argue with you, that actually your race comes up as an issue?

Tariana Turia: Oh well, I think you should read some of the letters I get, Linda. Mmm, it often does go back to race. I'm always interested that when people around the country think that I have offended them in some way or another, they raise the fact that I'm the daughter of an American marine, and that I'm not really a Maori anyway, you know, so I mean people do raise race, it seems inherent in people.

Linda Clark: Rather than just arguing the point with you?

Tariana Turia: Well, I mean, if you think about Maori people generally too, you know, when we're all doing well, we're great Kiwis. When we're not doing so well, you know, we're bad Maori.

Linda Clark: And I guess, when we disagree with you, or when some people disagree with you, you're cheeky in this case?

Tariana Turia: Well, I think that he's not being cheeky, he's being racist. He said 'Why should we listen to a brown man', I think were his words, something of that nature. You know, what's that saying? Is that saying, then, that anybody who is of colour shouldn't be listened to, shouldn't be in positions of power, shouldn't be able to lead and take the world forward? Because that's really what he was saying.

Linda Clark: So that's what you hear when he says that.

Tariana Turia: That's what I took out of it, yeah. We're not going to have any brown man telling us what to do. You know, he wouldn't have said it if he didn't really think it.

Linda Clark: And do people say that to you?

Tariana Turia: I haven't had anybody directly say it to my face. I've certainly had people write very denigrating letters to me, and I respond to those letters respectfully, in the way that I would want people to treat me, my children, my grandchildren, because I think that we should be respectful to all peoples, regardless.

Linda Clark: I appreciate you joining us. That was Tariana Turia, who's the Associate Minister of Maori Affairs, of course.

Broadcast on National Radio, at 9-06am on 26 September 2003

Indigenous Rights (Aotearoa).

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