Meng Foon: The former Gisborne Mayor appointed Race Relations Commissioner

The new Race Relations Commissioner, fluent in three languages including Māori, says he wants to ease "anxieties" in communities. 

Meng Foon, the outgoing Gisborne Mayor, was appointed by Justice Minister Andrew Little on Thursday to the role of promoting positive race relations. 

"He has an outstanding record as a relationship builder and walks comfortably in the Pākehā world, the Māori world, the Chinese community and other communities making up New Zealand," Little said. 

Foon, who was first elected onto the Gisborne District Council in 1995 and became Mayor in 2001, told Newshub he felt "elated" by the appointment and "really keen to continue to observe communities in New Zealand". 

As the only Mayor in New Zealand fluent in Te Reo as of 2019, Foon said one of his focuses as Race Relations Commissioner will be "supporting Māori indigenous rights". 

"I encourage solutions from the people. If we continue to do the same things, as we do at the present time, we're going to get the same results and not solve anything," said Foon, who can speak English, Cantonese and te reo Māori.

The Muslim community will also be a priority for Foon following the March 15 Christchurch terror attacks, in which two mosques were targeted by a shooter. 

He acknowledged frustrations within Christchurch's Muslim community about how multimillion-dollar public donations to attack victims are being distributed.

"Some people are getting more, some people are getting less, so we need to get to the nub of the issue," he told Newshub. 

Former Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon has been appointed Race Relations Commissioner.
Former Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon has been appointed Race Relations Commissioner. Photo credit: Facebook

But it's not just racial issues Foon is concerned about. He said he'll be looking into poverty, homelessness, housing, employment, drugs and alcohol abuse. 

"There are also the issues of climate change," he said. "Anything that creates anxiety within our communities is an issue for my role."

As Race Relations Commissioner, Foon joins Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt, Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner Saunoamaali'i Karanina Sumeo, and Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero. 

The Human Rights Commission is an independent Crown entity that works with Government to promote human rights, encourage race relations and equal employment opportunities and to resolve complaints about discrimination.

Former Race Relations Commissioner, Dame Susan Devoy.
Former Race Relations Commissioner, Dame Susan Devoy. Photo credit: Getty

Foon replaces previous Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy, who left the Human Rights Commission in June 2018 after her five-year term ended. Hunt has acted in the role ever since. 

Little has apologised for the delay in finding a permanent replacement. He said an unsuccessful applicant "sought an injunction to stop the appointment process" and later sought judicial review. 

"It has been a long wait, but I am confident this is an excellent appointment."

The applicant, Jamaica-born High Court barrister and solicitor Colin Henry, claimed the application process was not open and transparent.  

Foon, reflecting on his time as Gisborne Mayor, said he would often encourage communities in the East Coast city to share their views in the local Gisborne Herald newspaper to "celebrate our diversity". 

"I've seen it grow over the years, so if it can be done locally, it definitely can be done nationally."

Newshub.

Contact Newshub with your story tips:
news@newshub.co.nz