Prime Minister Helen Clark delivered this speech to the third New
Zealand National Interfaith
Forum at Parliament in Wellington on 27 February 2006.
The theme for this year’s event is ‘strengthening spirituality
- a shared path to peace’.
Greetings to distinguished guests, Interfaith Council members from
around the country, ladies and gentlemen.
I begin by congratulating the New Zealand Interfaith Group and
the Wellington Interfaith Council for bringing together this event,
and the organisers of yesterday’s First Convention of Interfaith
Thank you for your leadership in supporting the formation and strengthening
of interfaith networks and councils around the country, and in liaising
with government on interfaith and ethnic community issues.
I know that the New Zealand Interfaith Group has developed a useful
website for increasing our awareness about faith acitivities, which
includes among other things a multi-faith calendar. Those who visit
the website will learn that events in March include the beginning
of the fast for Baha’i’s in preparation for Nawruz or
Iranian New Year, Lent begins as the fasting period for Christians
and the Sikh New Year will commence. You can all check this and
other information out on www.interfaith.org.nz
This year’s Interfaith Forum is being held at a critical time
in our history at a local, national and international level.
The gratuitous publication internationally and by some local media
of cartoons depicting Mohammed, and the recent broadcast of a controversial
episode of the South Park cartoon, have meant that religious and
interfaith issues have been the focus of a great deal of discussion
in the media and in our communities. A recent headline in the Dominion
Post read “Catholic School’s Muslim Head Girl".
It is unusual to have the media pay such attention to issues of
religion in New Zealand.
We had a number of incidents of religious
and ethnic intolerance in New Zealand in 2004 that have focused
our attention on faith groups and relationships with wider society:
the desecration of Jewish grave sites; the attack on a group of
young Somali men in Newtown; and hate mail sent to members of the
Muslim community in Wellington. These were all the actions a small
number of people, but nonetheless have caused concern.
All of the events have led to increased debate about the relationships
between faith and ethnic communities in our society.
It behoves us in these circumstances to step up our efforts to
promote interfaith and intercultural awareness and understanding.
It is encouraging to see the constructive interest and support
among faith groups in New Zealand in response to these issues.
Interfaith networks are key to promoting this discussion among
faith groups and also to forming links with wider society. For example,
the Muslim community organised a very successful series of outreach
events for Islamic Awareness week last year.
These initiatives are fundamental to building an inclusive and
I have signalled in my opening speech to our new
Parliament last November, and again three weeks ago when this year's
session began, that an ability to reconcile our past and adjust
to the diversity of our present times is critical to building New
Zealand’s nationhood. We need more than ever before a commitment
to social cohesion, inclusion, tolerance, and acceptance.
In government we are committed to a society where all peoples are
seen, heard, included and accepted.
We are committed to leading by example, by creating and maintaining
excellent relationships with faith groups and by employing a diversity
of people within the public sector.
We also seek to recognise faith communities and the events which
are special to them. For example, an event involving parliamentarians
to celebrate the end of Ramadhan and the Silver Jubilee of the Federation
of Islamic Associations of New Zealand was held in Wellington in
November last year. We are also celebrating Diwali annually in Parliament
now. These events promote greater understanding and awareness of
the many faiths and cultures represented in our Parliament.
I acknowledge the leadership shown by Dr Ashraf Choudhary in hosting
these events and also his pioneering work as New Zealand’s
first Muslim Member of Parliament.
I also acknowledge the work of Joris de Bres and the Human Rights
Commission in facilitating the New
Zealand Diversity Action plan which has grown significantly
since it was first launched in August 2004.
As well, the Human
Rights Commission’s facilitation of a meeting between
media and religious representatives over the Islamic cartoon issue
helped defuse a difficult situation. I also applaud the response
of New Zealand's Islamic communities in helping to defend this country's
reputation as one of peace and tolerance.
The Government has invited the Office of Ethnic Affairs to begin
developing new ways of building links with New Zealand's Muslim
communities. I understand this has strong support from the Federation
of Islamic Associations of New Zealand. We want to encourage ongoing
dialogue within the Muslim community, and the development of outreach
programmes to our wider society.
International networks and forums are also important to consider.
The group that attended the Yogyakarta Dialogue on Interfaith Cooperation
in December 2004, including Dr Ashraf Choudhary, Bishop Richard
Randerson and Joris de Bres among others, recommended that a New
Zealand process for ongoing dialogue at regional and national levels
be initiated, and that a forum be established for dialogue between
the government and interfaith groups.
It is encouraging that these recommendations have all been acted
on – and that we are moving to a more co-ordinated series
of meetings to conduct interfaith dialogue. Today's meeting is part
of that ongoing work.
I encourage everyone attending today to share the outcome of this
dialogue with members of your communities, your colleagues, and
your families. That way we help make New Zealand a place where diversity
is valued and reflected in our national identity.
I wish you well for today, focusing on the theme of ‘Strengthening
spirituality – a shared path to peace’ and look forward
to the outcomes of this Third National Interfaith Forum.
I’d like to also take the chance to send best wishes to the
Progressive Jewish Congregation of Auckland, which is celebrating
its 50th anniversary next month, and to encourage you all to take
part in Race Relations Day events around the country. Thank you.