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Chris Ford: My meeting with Dame Susan Devoy in 1988 - she is conservative with a big C!

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

 I met Dame Susan Devoy when I was at high school back in 1988.

At that time, I was Vice President of my high school Student Council. During 1988 she embarked on a sponsored Walk for Muscular Dystrophy. As part of my vice-presidential duties, I was asked to hand over a cheque from the council to Devoy while participating in the walk.

I still have a local newspaper clipping and photo of my first and only meeting with Devoy.

I remember getting into a political discussion with Devoy on that walk. She pushed me at least part of the way between (I think) the Taieri Plains towns of Outram and Mosgiel. 

While I have only the haziest recollections of our conversation that day, I still strongly remember one part of it.

Somehow, during the journey, we struck up a political conversation. You would think that Devoy being an ordinary sports jock would have shied away from it. But no, she didn't!

The one part of the conversation I do distinctly remember is when I mentioned the 's' word. Yes, I mentioned that I was a socialist.

If I can remember correctly, she very good naturedly took me to task about it. I knew from then on that Devoy had conservative sympathies, no question about it.

And this conversation took place in the same year that Devoy visited military ruled Fiji to play in a squash tournament there. This was at a time when international sanctions against the regime were greater than those being used against the current military regime there.

Simply, I agree with other left-wing commentators such as Chris Trotter that Devoy's appointment was a huge raised finger from Justice Minister Judith Collins aimed at the socially liberal left. 

Clearly, National wasn't going to re-appoint the socially liberal/left inclined Joris De Bres. Clearly, National and their Act Party and United Future allies don't believed in structural racism. They believe that racism can only be eliminated through the assimilationist 'we are all one people' mode of thinking. If only.

Evidently, Devoy is probably aligned with National's view on human rights and race relations. They want a Race Relations Conciliator who will appeal to both National's core constituency and its swinging constituency of Pakeha middle and working class voters who don't dig supposed political correctness. Devoy herself has said that she doesn't believe in political correctness. She has an ally there in none other than that great friend of human rights, Richard Prosser MP who engaged her in a similar conversation on an Air New Zealand flight once.

And as for any hopes that Devoy might have her thinking re-altered by the Human Rights Commission bureaucracy, think again! 

Only today, left-wing blogger and commentator Martyn Bradbury has written in his Daily Blog about strong rumours that the Commission's budget is about to be cut. No doubt Collins, being no enthusiastic fan of the Commission herself, would merrily have it destroyed in order to silence the last government funded independent voice of dissent against National's attacks on the vulnerable.

All these considerations have no doubt played a part in Devoy's appointment. Her role will be to make the Race Relations Conciliator role irrelevant.

While Devoy is a great sportswoman, she's not the best person for this role. I agree with others who believe that this is what the government intended in her appointment - to use her inexperience as a weapon to discredit the office.

Sadly, that's why I believe that Devoy, a good person at heart, might have agreed to be used for a deeper and more disturbing purpose by Minister Collins.

Back on that day in 1988, I could not have forseen her being appointed Race Relations Conciliator. I couldn't have also forseen her being appointed as perhaps our last Race Relations Conciliator.



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