Over the last 30 years the diversity of New Zealand’s population has increased significantly in terms of ethnicity, culture, gender identities, religion, values, languages spoken, ages, sexual orientation and whānau structure.  New Zealand has been described as a “superdiverse” country.  Superdiversity means “a substantial increase in the diversity of ethnic, minority and immigrant groups in a city or country”.  One indicator of superdiversity is that a quarter of New Zealand’s population was born overseas.


Our Terms of Reference asked us to examine what Public sector agencies can do to prevent terrorist attacks such as that of 15 March 2019 and make any recommendations about how Public sector systems can be improved to prevent further terrorist attacks, and to provide reassurance to the New Zealand public.  To do so we heard about and considered the experiences of submitters and explored how New Zealand society has responded to New Zealand’s increasing diversity.


New Zealand is generally regarded as a country with a high level of social cohesion, but there is also evidence that some communities in New Zealand experience attitudes or harmful behaviours that make them feel less included or valued.


Public sector agencies have responded to New Zealand’s increasing diversity in a variety of ways, including through policies and activities to support social cohesion and social inclusion.  A socially cohesive society is one in which all individuals and groups have a sense of belonging, social inclusion, participation, recognition and legitimacy.  Social inclusion is the process of improving how individuals and groups participate and contribute to society on their own terms.


A number of submitters raised changing social and cultural perspectives to support a more diverse New Zealand and made many suggestions relating to the future.


Challenges faced by communities


A submitter discussed a major concern in New Zealand and other similarly diverse nations: the extent to which various ethnic groups are seen as belonging in the country.  People’s psychological beliefs mean they often implicitly consider some people as “real” members of society, while others, even if they are legally citizens or permanent residents, are seen as “foreigners”.  This tendency can lead people to discriminate against such ethnic groups, leading to distrust.

Therefore, one important recommendation for how to prevent such an atrocity from occurring again is to increase national inclusion of ethnic and religious groups, especially Muslims, in New Zealand.  […]  There is abundant [scientific] research to suggest this is a problem New Zealand will face in the coming decades if we do not take more active steps to incorporate non-European and non-Maori ethnic minorities into the national identity.

– Academic


Another submitter explained that the demonisation of the “other” is something that people revert to out of fear.

There is nothing to be fearful of and the biggest risk to security of communities in New Zealand is becoming a monoculture where we don’t embrace those with different languages, cultures, religions etc.  Our biggest strength in changing this risk is to continue all our streams of increasing diversity and inclusion.

– International non-profit organisation


People shared their experiences of themselves or others from their community being harassed.  Instances of certain groups of people being harassed on the streets are mainly focused on people whose dress identifies them as belonging to a particular religious group.  These people include Sikhs, Hindus, Jews and Muslim individuals.


A common example was Muslim women being targeted because they are easily identified by wearing hijab.  We were told that frequently women in hijab are judged by the global politicisation of religion to accommodate a cultural or religious requirement.  We heard from a few people who said they are worried about their whānau and friends who wear hijab.  Some women said they felt more scared going out on their own wearing hijab.  They told us they avoided going to public places and doing things that used to be part of their daily routine, such as taking their children to school or going on an evening walk.  We heard from one group that:

We stopped feeling safe in New Zealand after the 15 March attacks – this event has shaken us, especially our women who tend to be the “flag bearers” as their dress is a visual demonstration of their faith.  

– Community organisation


Another example was the tagging, vandalism and arson of masajid.  Over a four-year period, a faith-based community reported at least 150 incidents of extremism targeting their communities, including graffiti of offensive symbols in public places, at faith facilities and social media comments.


The Hindu community noted that attacks on dairies may not be on religious grounds, but many of the victims are from the Hindu community.  They noted that racial slurs and attacks on the members of the Hindu community for speaking their language and cultural practices are of concern.


We received some submissions noting concern that social institutions, in particular media and politics, show high levels of Islamophobia.  These submitters were concerned about the speed at which social media can disseminate hate speech.  We were told that studies on the media demonstrate the majority of stories on Muslim communities and Islam are negative and tend to focus on violence, extremism and terrorism, reinforcing the commonly-held view that Muslim communities and individuals are a threat.  We were told that the media has condoned the vilification of Muslim communities by failing to provide a counter-narrative.  This has resulted in the racism that Muslim individuals experience daily. 

The media capitalises on reporting that not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.  Whenever a Muslim is involved in a shooting they will be labelled as “Terrorist” but not any non-Muslim involved in killing and terrorising any group of people.  When [the Oslo terrorist] killed 77 people on 22 July 2011 in three separate attacks around Oslo, he made a point of showing the world of the menace of Muslim[s] immigrating to Europe.  Although he was casually labelled as a terrorist his religious beliefs were never headlined as a Christian fundamentalist terrorist.

– Charitable welfare organisation


Further on this theme, one submitter discussed in detail how securitisation is the main media frame through which Muslim stories or stories involving Muslim communities or Muslim countries and regions are told to the public.  They believed violent acts perpetrated by Muslim and non-Muslim individuals are framed differently.  Muslim violence is framed as terrorism, while non-Muslim violence is reported using “mental illness”, “mass shooting” or “loner” frames.


Other studies show that the terrorist threat supposedly posed by Muslim individuals is used by politicians to achieve political gain, and that the terrorism threat has come to form part of the public debate about immigration, refugees, security and national identity.  One submitter noted that Hansard, the official record of Parliament, has in its searchable record dating back to 2003, 139 mentions of “Muslim”, 317 mentions of “Islam” and 238 mentions of the word “Islamic”.  These are almost all in the context of security and counter-terrorism.


People commented on the need for change and for society to become more accepting of diversity. 

[The] impact of the Christchurch terror attack has been strongly felt across all Aotearoa.  The emphasis should always be on connection; bringing people together, engaging all in our communities and celebrating the ‘we’ and ‘togetherness’ in diversity.

– International non-profit organisation


A few submitters acknowledged that religious communities could also do more to increase the awareness of their religious values and practices to reduce the prejudice and biases of the wider society and to ensure they actively participate in the activities of New Zealand communities.  These views included concern about immigration policy in New Zealand, the integration of some ethnic groups and that strict background checks should be prerequisites for immigration.


Some submitters discussed their interactions with Public sector agencies, particularly the Office of Ethnic Communities (part of the Department of Internal Affairs).  Some of these submissions noted that the performance of the Office of Ethnic Communities was “lacklustre” and that its roles and responsibilities were not given requisite mana (te reo Māori term meaning standing, authority and influence) by ministers and other Public sector agencies.  While a few submitters cited some positive relationships with the Office of Ethnic Communities, particularly with certain officials, most comments were about their frustrations over their interactions with the Office of Ethnic Communities. 


Many submitters expressed concern about the effective engagement of Public sector agencies with communities and the lack of progress in dealing with their issues and concerns.  We received many questions that submitters wanted us to ask Public sector agencies in this regard.  Many submitters noted that they wished to actively participate in decision-making, so that they could contribute to ensuring that New Zealand was a safe and secure place to live and work.


A submitter told us the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2006.  One of the four pillars of the strategy is Addressing the Conditions Conducive to the Spread of Terrorism.

[This pillar] was more or less never implemented in New Zealand.  There was no effective social cohesion/Countering Violent Extremism programme that supported and addressed the disadvantages in the Muslim community.  Promises of funding were made but never realised.

– Community organisation


The Muslim community was not ‘served’ by the public service.  The consequences of the failures are protective and supportive systems for the minority, vulnerable and ‘least warmed to’ community in New Zealand were not in place or advanced to the extent they would otherwise have been on and before 15 March 2019.

– Community organisation


Need for strategy, policy and ownership relating to social cohesion and inclusion


Many submitters discussed the lack of any government strategy, policy or ownership to promote social cohesion.  A few submitters believed that a national ethnic relations policy is required.  This would prepare New Zealanders for diversity via remedial and proactive measures to foster positive intergroup relations, counteract xenophobic attitudes and combat discriminatory practices in all spheres of social and economic activity. 


One submitter believed New Zealand should adopt a similar policy to the Canadian Multiculturalism Act.

[The Act] ensure[s] that every Canadian receives equal treatment by the government which respects and celebrates diversity.  The Act also recognises Canada’s multicultural heritage and that this heritage must be protected.  There is no reason why New Zealand cannot adopt similar policies.

– Community organisation


A few submitters suggested the establishment of a National Diversity and Inclusion Strategy (beyond some agencies’ own internal diversity and inclusion strategies) to include ethnic diversity and inclusion, to combat discrimination and guide New Zealanders’ actions and the actions of others.  Such a strategy, developed by communities and groups, could be adopted by the government nationally as part of the ethnic relations policy.


A submitter stated that New Zealand needs a coordinated and strategic national approach for improving social cohesion and addressing systemic racism and religious discrimination.  Such a national strategy would need to include the following key aspects:

  1. the needs of the people the government seeks to serve must be appropriately addressed, so a “race equity lens” should be developed;
  2. any projects that are adopted have clearly defined targets, deadlines and reporting mechanisms so they are effective, sustainable and accountable;
  3. every level of government must be incorporated and have a plan to progress the national strategy;
  4. public awareness and dialogue are instigated by government initiating a conversation about understanding and diversity; and
  5. a targeted scheme is introduced into schools including lessons on race, religion, diversity and related topics.


One submitter noted that some of the biggest risks to the security of communities in New Zealand include poverty and inadequate access to mental health support.  They felt that a mental health strategy should be prioritised and that related mental health services should be adequately funded.  Another submitter stated that students want facilities for community development and communal counselling to help them in their struggles with identity and mental health.


One person suggested that strategies could be supported by something like the Responding to Racism Guide, used in Ireland, which is a comprehensive toolkit for education and reporting of racism.  A tool like that could serve educational purposes.  It could also be used as a guide to develop healthy intercultural practices and the de-normalisation of racist abuse and lesser forms of aggression.  The submitter believed that this could be an effective educational and awareness tool to understand the harm and deeper consequences of racism. 


The concept of a new agency and/or reference group was raised in slightly different ways by submitters.  One submitter believed there is a need for a designated lead government agency that connects at central and local government level.  The submitter also advocated an independent and non-religiously affiliated agency, which would link religious communities and interfaith groups with the government, at local and national levels.

Alternatively, a national religious committee could be established with representatives of the major faith groups led by an independent chair to provide a formal link and communication between religious communities and between them and government (along the lines of the successful, tried and tested Scottish model).

– Academic


Another submitter recommended a cross-government working group (which previously existed) be reinstated to work with a Muslim Sector Advisory Group.  This would develop a cross-government plan to deliver urgent services to New Zealand Muslim communities in the areas of youth services, education, employment, health and welfare.  The submitter believed that there should be a corresponding contribution of funding, with the working group and the Muslim Sector Advisory Group jointly making decisions on funding allocation.


One submitter believed that Public sector chief executives should be made accountable, through strengthened good employer provisions, for creating and maintaining truly inclusive workplaces.  The submitter suggested that the then State Services Commission should develop a range of tools.  These could include guidelines on how to reorient towards a human rights compliant culture in policy and project development.


Some submitters suggested that the Office of Ethnic Communities was floundering and that significant changes were required.   One submitter suggested that the Office of Ethnic Communities should sit under another department that has shared goals, such as the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment or the Ministry of Social Development.  They suggested different ways that the Office of Ethnic Communities could “get back on track”.  These suggestions included that the Office of Ethnic Communities should:

  1. redefine its functions;
  2. better understand and respond to the needs of ethnic communities;
  3. review what is working and what is not, as well as looking at what is already being resourced elsewhere and put in place a more strategic work programme focused on improving the wellbeing of ethnic communities; and
  4. develop a data analysis capacity and capability and become a centre of excellence.


The Office of Ethnic Communities should be a full government department, according to some submitters.  An alternative suggested by one submitter was that at the very least, its Director should report directly to the Chief Executive of the Department of Internal Affairs.  Another submitter also believed, given the strategic gravity of our diverse population and changing demographics, that there should be a Strategic Advisor for Ethnic Communities role in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.  One submitter suggested that a Religious Reference Group be established to advise the government and local authorities.


Another submitter believed there should be a new Ministry for Ethnic Communities, which would administer a New Zealand multicultural policy bringing together all of the multicultural resources currently used across agencies.

Singapore sets an example for the world on multiculturalism.  A founding principle of the country is the integration of its ethnic and racial groups – a decision was made at the outset to treat every race, language and religion as equal.  It made an asset of its ethnic and religious diversity, and the result is relative racial harmony.

– Community organisation


Another submitter set out a detailed proposal for a new Ministry, such as a Ministry for Inclusion, which could bring together Immigration New Zealand (part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) and the Office of Ethnic Communities, housing the Human Rights Commission as an independent entity.  The new Ministry’s core work would be on relationships between all ethnic groups, framed by manaakitanga (showing and receiving care, respect and generosity).

Such values – which help to cultivate relationships based on trust, empowerment and kindness – do [not] ask European/Pākehā New Zealanders nor minority group members to give up what is important to them, but would enable them to understand different ways of being and living.

– Academic


Some submitters considered that Public sector agencies should address their own issues of unconscious bias and racism and take active steps to ensure their workplaces are truly inclusive, including being free of bias, discrimination and harassment.  One submitter believed that there should be goals and targets for diversity across all levels of the Public service.


Cultural competency training for Public sector employees could be delivered by local communities with lived experience some submitters suggested.  A few submitters also thought employers more generally should receive cross-cultural training so they view migrants as a resource rather than a deficit.

There is an inherent institutional racism in the police and judicial system.  […] This means our concerns [are] not being taken seriously by the Police, we’re not being told of our rights, not given access to translation services, we are victim-blamed and shamed, experience general disrespectful behaviour, and harsher sentences than our white counterparts.  There are many cases where because of the racism of Police and judicial services, community leaders have had to intervene.

– Community organisation


A few people told us that meetings set up by Public sector agencies sometimes did not have interpreters present or relevant languages were not offered.  This compounded the challenges some people faced in understanding what support options were available to them and how to access them.  In some cases, it meant that people were relying on whānau members to translate for them what Public sector agencies were saying, and we were told of instances where some felt their whānau member was not impartial or may not have been passing on all relevant information.


Submitters believed incorrect assumptions are often made, resulting in representatives from various Public sector agencies choosing to treat individuals differently depending on the colour of a person’s skin or their name.  Submitters considered that there should be better ethnic representation within Public sector agencies at both the staff and leadership levels.  This would help to create trust with the communities that these agencies are engaging with, particularly on issues such as safety and security.  A few submitters drew our attention to the inability of some people to obtain security clearances because of their countries of origin.  This made it impossible to work in some Public sector agencies.  These submitters believed that this is an example of failure to ensure diversity of experience in Public sector agencies.  The problem risks “groupthink” in assessments of and approaches to the threats to ethnic and religious communities.


A few submitters thought that the government needs to gain the trust of ethnic and religious communities.  As many communities came from corrupted systems in their country of origin, they do not have any faith in the government and it would take time to build trust and confidence.  It is important that Public sector agencies understand this.

It was observed that several of our clients found the sight of New Zealand Police (as seen in Wellington) armed and carrying high powered rifles traumatising.  Conversely others found a greater sense of security and safety.  This underlines the need to ensure effort is made by the authorities to engage and build trust with migrant and refugee communities.  Reassurance that the New Zealand authorities are corruption free, are here to protect and to help are vital components to this process (many former refugees have in the past, in their countries of origin and during transit had the opposite experience).

– International non-profit organisation


Community engagement practices by Public sector agencies


Many submitters talked about community engagement practices of Public sector agencies being ill-defined, transactional one-off meetings on a limited topic, with no clarity of overall vision as to how the topic fits within the government’s policy agenda and objectives.  Further, some submitters noted that Public sector agencies often predefined the solutions rather than engaged in real conversations with communities.  This meant there was not a common understanding of the problems and issues that should be fixed, and there was limited collaboration in the development of solutions that best meet the needs to communities.  This meant there was limited buy-in to solutions. 


Some submitters noted that Public sector agencies often “cherry-picked” whom they consulted in order to get support for their predetermined solution.  And often this cherry-picking involved ethnic and religious communities being talked to separately by the relevant Public sector agency.  By talking to groups and communities in isolation this meant that there was no cross pollination, sharing or moderation of ideas between communities. 


A few submitters acknowledged that as they were volunteers and were often being "consulted" by Public sector agencies without any recompense or acknowledgment that the work was being undertaken at the expense of family time.  A few submitters acknowledged that they were running out of energy and time to give the necessary ideas and feedback required into Public sector processes. 


Solutions proposed by submitters


People told us that Muslim individuals and communities and Islam need to be normalised in official and popular discourse.

[This would involve] media in New Zealand making a conscious effort to normalise Muslim representations on screen, and to take a critical, rational, and ethical approach to priming and framing stories involving Islam, Muslims, and Muslim-majority countries and regions.

– Community organisation


We heard that politicians should be held to account for their comments and educated on different religions and ethnicities.  Many submitters felt the elimination of hatred should be an action that both central government and local authorities must prioritise.  One submitter recommended a range of changes, such as to the Cabinet Manual, Standing Orders of the House of Representatives and Local Government Act 2002, to prohibit racial or religious discrimination by ministers and politicians in both central and local government.


We heard from many submitters that ensuring all citizens can be engaged, participating members of their communities is vital to their ongoing wellbeing and safety.  Public sector agencies have an important role connecting with communities and establishing partnerships that enable improved levels of safety and cohesion.  A challenge for New Zealand’s ethnic communities is being able to communicate what they offer and how they contribute to New Zealand.


Submitters considered that Public sector agencies should collaborate more closely and work with local communities and community agencies on providing programmes that promote belonging and wellbeing, and that target violence, disconnection and stigmatisation.


Many submitters offered a range of ideas about how the government can work with communities and enhance social cohesion and social inclusion.  A few submitters stated that whatever is done, the government should be seen to treat all ethnic and religious communities equally and fairly.  Any preferential treatment to any one community will be seen to be non-inclusive by other communities.  This may be a reason for non-acceptance and exclusion.


A key theme that came through was the role of New Zealand’s education system.  People commented on the need to put in place education and other programmes at primary, secondary and tertiary level to develop understanding and tolerance of different cultures and to prevent cycles of hatred beginning.


One submitter provided a record of how schools, staff and communities in Christchurch came together after the 15 March 2019 terrorist attack, with reflections on both positive and negative impacts, as well as what is needed for the future.  Some of the reflections were that:

  1. Schools grew closer to their Muslim community and very strong and supportive partnerships have been created and strengthened.
  2. School communities also became closer as people reached out to each other.  Everyone is more mindful of being kind towards one another.  Many schools observed more interactions between members of their communities.
  3. Communities and staff are more culturally aware.  Students have a deeper understanding of racism and inclusion. 
  4. Schools became more focused on the wellbeing of their communities and staff.  Many schools created spaces where students could have a quiet place.
  5. Everyone had changed perceptions of their city/home/country.  Children felt frightened and vulnerable, especially those in hijab.  People are more mindful of walking into public events, feeling unsafe and unnerved.
  6. Non-Muslim cultures have struggled as well, feeling like they would be targeted next.
  7. Cultural diversity continued to be celebrated by sponsoring events.
  8. There was support to decrease cultural distances so that culturally diverse families can access support services, like Work and Income for example.
  9. As Christchurch becomes more and more culturally diverse, more funding is needed to support staff in school with training to support our communities.


A few submitters stated that the Ministry of Education should embed diversity and inclusion in the school curriculum with the aim to eradicate racism within a generation.  It was suggested this could be similar to the anti-bullying programme in schools.

The current provision in the Education Act that permits a school to be closed for an hour a week for religious instruction (which is interpreted to mean Christian) and allows parents to opt students out, should be removed and consideration be given to the teaching of cultural and religious diversity as a compulsory part of the curriculum.

– Community organisation


A few submitters suggested there could be cultural days or similar events to help students understand people from different ethnic backgrounds.  Parents should also be invited to these events.  A racial harmony day could emphasise the importance of racial cohesion among students. 


A few submitters also wanted religious literacy to be taught in schools.  They believed that religious practices can cause fear and suspicion if they are viewed as different, alien or misunderstood.  If they are better understood by both those with a religious faith and those without a religious faith, all can move beyond ignorance to a new level of respect and appreciation.

The timely need for basic religious literacy to be taught in all New Zealand schools.  This needs to be Treaty-based and focussing on the actual religious and non-religious communities in Aotearoa New Zealand, covering migration, belief and practices, morality, and contemporary demographics.  Such core religious literacy should be offered from years 5-10, with specialist study available at [New Zealand’s National Certificates of Educational Achievement] levels, 1, 2, 3 and Scholarship.  There is robust evidence to support such teaching as an effective way to promote inclusion and reduce inter-communal tensions.  Adult communal education should also be available.

– Academic


A submitter suggested that to encourage inclusion and diversity, it could be compulsory for every child to learn a second language, such as te reo Māori (Māori language) at primary school level and a further language at secondary school.  This would lead to an understanding of a new culture.  We were told that such policies have been successful in reducing monolingualism (speaking only one language) in other countries.  A few submitters also suggested cultural exchanges for secondary school or university students (including within New Zealand).


There was a call for teachers to have professional development in cross-cultural communication, in how to teach diverse students (and to teach about diversity) and in different learning styles.  Some submitters felt that cultural competency is missing from many schools, and educators should be taught strategies to de-escalate violence and embed respectful social interactions.  Some submitters felt cultural competency should be audited, and all schools should enable a system where students can complain about race or religious-based discrimination by teachers.


Classrooms should be a safe place, where individuals can express their religious and cultural beliefs without discrimination and restrictions.

The students want to raise the inadequacy in training of teachers and principals when it comes to dealing with cases of Islamophobia and racism.  They want the government to introduce professional development for both teachers and school principals so they are well equipped in dealing with such cases.

– Member of the public


It was recommended that young people grow up with tolerance, and that encouraging sports teams of mixed backgrounds and other activities for youth would be helpful.  Parents, as well as teachers, should be encouraged to teach children about the right behaviours. 

One of the biggest problems we face is the ‘silos’ where young people are encouraged to remain in their own community and not to mix with others.

– Community organisation


A few submitters told us government resources relating to resettlement should not just be allocated to physical resettlement.  Emotional, psychological, cultural, social and economic resettlements are also important.  These remove misconceptions about ethnic groups and can ensure better understanding of diverse cultures and religions, goals and objectives, ways of life and capabilities.

These types of settlement are the ones that create real integration in the community and as a result lead to more understanding and acceptance.

– Community organisation


People told us they felt government and local authorities should work with community groups to establish healthy relationships between citizens and migrants, including refugees.

Channels of communication between different cultures should be encouraged and supported, possibly by funding gatherings where people can meet over a cup of tea.

– Community organisation


A submitter told us cultural safety workshops in the community could enable people to learn more about the ethnic minority groups living in New Zealand and how people’s ethnic background shapes their values and attitudes.


A few submitters thought there should be the following initiatives:

  1. education workshops on human rights and discrimination, and a collaborative campaign with key organisations aimed at eradicating discrimination/racism, which could be run in various media;
  2. Increased public funding for the production of content for television, radio, print, and social media that challenges common stereotypes and exposes audiences to more balanced, positive representations of minority cultures;
  3. ambassadors used to promote aroha (love, empathy, compassion) and manaakitanga (showing and receiving care, respect, generosity);
  4. support for festivals for minority groups and inter-faith events at local levels that create cohesion between different cultures and religions and tackle racism; and
  5. opportunities and motivation for groups to form on the basis of common interests, skills, hobbies, tastes (such as food and music) and aspirations, beyond ethnicity or religion.


Some submitters suggested that Public sector agencies needed to significantly improve their communities’ engagement practices.  This would involve more work in developing relational processes built on collaboration and working together to identify and agree the problems and issues to be fixed or mitigated, the solutions and how those solutions might be implemented effectively and by whom.