Transcript: Susan Devoy

  • 05/09/2015
Dame Susan Devoy
Dame Susan Devoy

Lisa Owen: Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy is here with me in the studio. Good morning.

Susan Devoy: Good morning, Lisa.

We're seeing now refugees marching across Europe, hundreds of them marching for kilometres. What's your reaction to that?

Well, I think these pictures that we've just seen on this programme will just add to the horrors of the ones we've seen during the week. And I think the gentleman from the Red Cross summed it all – despair, distressed people. And it's actually hard to believe, because we're so removed here in New Zealand, that that's actually happening.

When you were last here on this programme, you said that we should up our refugee quota from 750 to a thousand. In fact, you said that would be a good start. But you're upping the ante today, aren't you? What would you like to happen?

I think there's two things the government must do. Firstly, I think they need to take immediate action to put an emergency intake in place. And secondly, in addition to, they must increase the quota. So we're in the review process now. So from 2016 to 2019, we can progressively increase the quota so that it's doubled in five years' time.

So twice as many refugees coming over on the quota but staggered – is your view.

Well, I think we have to make a progressive advancement. The story that we've just seen, we need to ensure that we have the right provision in place to give all refugees the best possible outcome so that they have really good resettlement.

And in terms of an emergency intake – a one-off emergency intake – what kind of number do you think would be appropriate?

I think it's hard to pick a number out of the air, but it was very interesting, wasn't it, to hear the woman from the UNHCR that the government are considering a hundred Syrians. But you know, the reality is that we can do more than that. We have in the past. You know, we've had the example of the Tampa refugees and others, and we've done that in the past, and we can do it again.

The Tampa refugees were part of our quota at the time. You'd like to see this emergency intake as extra to our quota, and a hundred wouldn't be enough, in your view, if it were a hundred?

I think we have to look at what our capacity is, and I think the people are saying that we have the capacity and capability to take more. And it's our responsibility as an international citizen. Let's face it, we have done nothing in nearly 30 years. So if this government could do both of those things, then that's something that they can be proud of and we could all be proud of as a country.

Labour's saying about 750 in an emergency intake. Would you think that's about the right number?

I don't know the numbers, because we have to be able to, as I say, give these people good resettlement. But I think we need to do something. And 750 is not a lot, is it? Have we ever seen anything like this since World War Two?

If we do do that, that is going to cost us. So the figures you are suggesting will cost us. How do we pay for it?

Well, I think we can find in our country the ways to pay for lots of things, you know? I don't want to drag it up, but $25 million for a referendum for a flag; we can bail out failed finance companies. I think if we need to find the money, we can.

So you would suggest that there's some expenditure we could redirect?

Most definitely. If there's a need, we find a way. We didn't expect to have an earthquake in Christchurch, and we found the money to redirect to that. This is something that we will look back in 30 years and say as New Zealanders, 'What did we do in the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II?

 Well, when you talk about more money, the NGOs, they need more money too, don't they? I mean, they're fundraising for most of their budgets.

Oh, it's appalling. You know, I work with tireless advocates and passionate campaigners – not only those people that are calling to increase the quota and have been for some time, but also those people who advocate on behalf of refugees and the people that we've seen on your programme that actually provide the services and support. So, the important thing is to realise that it's not just about increasing the quota and bringing more refugees in on an emergency intake. What are the services and support we're giving them? And we need to have really good, in-depth, continued support. We need to give them access to the services that they need, and they may be beyond what ordinary, everyday New Zealanders need.

So, is that a government responsibility to fund those services, then?

It is a government responsibility, but, you know, the welcome of refugees is up to all New Zealanders. You know, we need to open our hearts and our minds. And that's the change that I've seen in the last couple of weeks – is, really, everyday New Zealanders.

What do you say in response to people who say that there's lots of refugees waiting for placement to go to countries, they're waiting in camps; why should the people from this particular crisis jump the queue? Would that be fair?

Well, I think that, you know, New Zealand has a say in where refugees would come from. Generally, we are directed by the guidance from the UNHCR, you know, in our annual quota process. But this is exceptional circumstances. The consequences of the Syrian war means that there are people there in dire need. And I think that's on compassionate grounds that we take those people.

All right. Thank you very much for joining me this morning, Dame Susan Devoy.

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