Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith refuses to express confidence in Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt, says two CEOs 'not sustainable'

Paul Goldsmith says the personnel will be changing.
Paul Goldsmith says the personnel will be changing. Photo credit: Newshub.

The Justice Minister is refusing to express confidence in Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt and says he doesn't believe it's appropriate for the Human Rights Commission (HRC) to appoint its new Ti Tiriti-focused "shared leader".     

Paul Goldsmith is making it known he will be making changes to the HRC but he won't be abolishing it, despite the ACT Party calling for that. The abolishment of the HRC isn't mentioned in the National-ACT coalition agreement.   

Hunt's warrant as the Chief Commissioner expires in January, leaving it up to the Minister of Justice to make a decision about who will be in the role going forward.   

Newshub asked the HRC whether Hunt will seek re-appointment but was told those questions were for the Justice Minister.  

Goldsmith on Thursday said he wouldn't abolish the HRC but "we will be making changes... in terms of the personnel of the people and a couple of roles that come up, and we will be working through that process".   

Asked whether he had had any discussions about who will fill the role post-January, Goldsmith said he needed to speak with Hunt first.    

"It's the appropriate way to go but we're going to be making changes across the Human Rights Commission," he told Newshub.   

He wouldn't express confidence in Hunt.   

The HRC announced on Wednesday afternoon Julia Whaipooti, a community advocate and former lawyer who has worked for the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care and for the Office of the Children's Commissioner, would take on the role of Tatau-Urutahi | shared leader.

This is described by the commission as part of its work "fostering a treaty-based partnership" and working alongside Tatau-Uruora (shared leader/chief executive) Meg de Ronde.    

"This innovative leadership model reflects the commission's dedication to honouring the partnership inherent in te Tiriti o Waitangi between Tino Rangatiratanga (self-determination of Māori) and Kāwanatanga (Government)."   

Whaipooti's appointment would "strengthen the organisation's commitment to promoting and protecting human rights for all", the commission said.  

But Goldsmith isn't impressed.    

"I don't think we should be having dual CEOs across the public sector and I'll be looking forward to some advice on that," he said. "I just don't think it's sustainable."   

The appointment of Whaipooti has been criticised by the ACT Party. While ACT is part of the Government, a statement on Thursday was released by the party's MP Todd Stephenson.   

"Julia Amua Whaipooti comes direct from left-wing criminal justice reform group JustSpeak, where she has promoted 'a world without prisons.' The appointment comes after the commission also hired Claire Charters, a co-author of the radically divisive He Puapua report," Stephenson said.  

"ACT has long said the people at the Human Rights Commission are left-wing activists masquerading as politically neutral bureaucrats. There's no denying it now.   

"The commission continues to exploit precious taxpayer resources to promote co-governance and has previously campaigned in support of benefit hikes, a 'living wage', and restrictions on speech."   

He said the commission should be abolished entirely and money saved redirected into core services, debt reduction or tax relief.   

Hunt has been a controversial figure for the HRC.   

In 2021, he was criticised after attending a meeting organised by the Mongrel Mob's Waikato chapter, which at the time was attempting to reform. He said he had followed its "work with interest".   

After it was revealed the HRC donated $200 to the Mongrel Mob as a Koha - which Hunt said was in line with tikanga - there were calls for him to be sacked. He said that was "unfair and unkind".   

Hunt also met with Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki ahead of an anti-vaccine mandate demonstration at Parliament. He said he was open to listening to with "concerns about potential breaches of human rights", but it was criticised by ACT.