Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Police mark 21st anniversary of unity awards

NZ Police recently celebrated the 21st anniversary of the Race Unity Speech Awards.

The awards began in 2001 and are held annually, giving year 11-13 students nationwide – 5,000 of them over the years – a platform to speak about an aspect of race relations in New Zealand.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster and Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha led Police’s representation at the anniversary event, marking the significance of Police’s role as principal sponsor since 2008.

Among the VIP guests were Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon, members of the diplomatic community, MPs and representatives of the Bahá’í faith, founders of the competition.

The celebration was hosted by Police Minister, Ginny Andersen and Minister for Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities, Priyanca Radhakrishnan.

Minister Andersen said she was proud to be part of the history of the awards, having been present in her then role in Policy at Police in 2008 as the discussions around sponsorship took place. 

Our rangatahi are the leaders of today and tomorrow” – Commissioner Coster addresses the audience.

Commissioner Coster put Police’s support of the awards into the context of the organisation’s extensive work with communities.

“It is perhaps seen as somewhat unusual for a Police agency to sponsor such an event, but I think this underscores how New Zealand Police like to do things a little differently,” he told the gathering.

In 2005, this included becoming the first government agency to adopt an Ethnic Strategy; collaboration with communities on uniform projects such as creating an operational hijab and turban; and providing multi-faith prayer rooms on police premises.

It continues in programmes addressing crime and victimisation in a holistic manner – such as Gandhi Nivas Early intervention family harm programme and Te Pae Oranga.

“Our participation in the awards demonstrates our continued successful investment in proactive discussions on racism over such a long period of time.”

Commissioner Coster picked up on the theme of the 2022 awards programme – Ngā matimati nō te ringa kotahi, the fingers of one hand – ­to address work designed to tackle hate crime and create a victim-centric response.

“The programme is called Te Raranga – The Weave, which has a vision to bring people, whānau, agencies, and communities together like the fingers of one hand and work together to reduce hate crime in Aotearoa,” he said.

Minister Radhakrishnan with awards participants (from left) Mira Karunanidhi, Nora Quigley and Te Ariki Te Puni.

A number of past winners and other participants in the awards programme were present at the celebration.

Lucia-Tui Bernards, winner in 2021 and daughter of Superintendent Tracey Thompson and the late Inspector Tony Bernards, performed a karakia. Three other participants took part in a panel discussion with Minister Radhakrishnan.

Commissioner Coster recounted how the path to Police becoming sponsor began in 2005 when Constable, now Superintendent, Rakesh Naidoo acted as a judge at a regional heat in Christchurch then approached headquarters for support.

He thanked Rakesh and Wally – chief judge of the awards – for their commitment.

Bev Watson, from the Bahá’í community, took Wally by surprise, presenting him with a carved hoe, or paddle, in acknowledgement of his contribution over the years.

Wally said it had been a privilege to listen to the rangatahi – Kiwis from many nationalities, speaking in many languages.

“All they want is to be… treated equally, with fairness and equality and the right to express themselves and be free in a country that’s safe.”

Commissioner Coster said views expressed during the speech awards had impacted the organisation’s approach to policing and the discourse on race relations in New Zealand.

“Our rangatahi are the leaders of today and tomorrow, which is why it is so vitally important they have a say about the environment they want to be part of and grow in – and share widely what they have to say,” he said.

Or as Mira Karunanidhi, one of the participants in the panel discussion, put it: “Our voices might be loud but our silence will be even louder if we don’t stand up to discriminatory behaviour and racism when we see it.”

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