In Conversation with Sir Kim Workman

19 Aug 2020

Kim Workman, 2018 The Ryman Healthcare Senior New Zealander of the Year - Te Mātāpuputu o te Tau
Kim Workman, 2018 The Ryman Healthcare Senior New Zealander of the Year - Te Mātāpuputu o te Tau

The legendary Sir Kim Workman (Ngāti Kahungunu and Rangiitaane), known for his work in justice reform and public advocacy is both a previous winner and current category judge for the Ryman Healthcare Senior New Zealander of the Year Award - Te Mātāpuputu o te Tau.

Sir Kim’s career spans across the Police, the Office of the Ombudsman, State services Commission, Department of Maori Affairs and Ministry of Health. In 2011 he established JustSpeak a network of young people who wanted change in our criminal Justice System.

We caught up with Workman on being a category judge and what winning this Award meant for JustSpeak. Here's what he had to say.

What was your driving force behind establishing JustSpeak?

In 2011 I was 71 years old, and had been an active advocate for criminal justice reform for ten years. I wanted to spend more time writing about criminal justice issues, but didn’t want to vacate the advocacy space without a succession plan. I realised that the voices of young people were largely absent from the criminal justice debate, and sent out a meeting invitation to those interested in justice reform. I expected five or six people to attend, and ended up buying pizza for 46 enthusiastic reformers! Within two months JustSpeak was organising public meetings, making submissions to Parliament, and writing reports. I realised I had a social movement on my hands, and in 2015 closed the Rethinking Crime and Punishment Project in order to support JustSpeak. JustSpeak is a major player influence days, encouraging New Zealanders to change the conversation and transform our justice system to be fair, just and compassionate. These days, I am JustSpeak’s kaumātua.

What advice would you give to senior New Zealanders who want to make a difference in Aotearoa?

Senior New Zealanders have the advantage of age, experience and credibility. Sometimes however, we develop tunnel vision, and become convinced that our view is the only one that counts. If you want to make a difference nationally, actively listen to the views of diverse others before embarking on change. In my case, that included High Court Judges, victims, academics, prisoners and gang members. I was also privileged to be invited into the world of young people, and am actively mentored by a couple of JustSpeak leaders. It has been an enriching experience.

What did winning Senior New Zealander of the Year mean to you and JustSpeak?

Winning the Award in 2018, was a game changer for both myself and JustSpeak. Public advocacy for criminal justice is a fraught occupation. New Zealanders have strongly held and diverse views on the topic, sometimes resulting in savage media coverage, and personal attacks from opponents. The award was an affirmation that New Zealand is a nation which supports the right to publicly express a view - it is OK to be different. It was also a personal validation, in that even those who disagreed with aspects of reform, paid greater attention to what I had to say - speaking invitations increased significantly! It also meant greater recognition for JustSpeak, attracting greater media attention and public and political interest.

Do you think you’ll have a greater insight into what makes a Ryman Healthcare Senior New Zealander of the Year as a previous winner?

Most certainly. I had the privilege of meeting other nominees in 2018, and speaking with judges, and sponsors, and the current criteria is a faithful reflection of their views. It's more about people who are still actively engaged in the community as a senior New Zealander, than an older person who is known for their past achievements.

What do you think are the most important qualities in a candidate being nominated for this category?

Ideally, the qualities we are looking for include, persistence and resilience over the long-term, commitment to making a difference within the community. It implies preparedness to make a personal sacrifice.

Are there any senior New Zealanders that inspire you, or that you look up to?

There have always been senior New Zealanders in my life that have inspired me and have been influential in shaping my life. In the past, Tuhoe kaumātua, John Rangihau, Sir George Laking, Sir Paul Reeves, Canon Wi Huata and Ian Elliott (all since deceased) were major influences. These days, I regard people like Judge Sir David Carruthers, Andrew Becroft and Professor Tony Taylor and social activist Pat McGill as role models, as well as younger leaders such as Justice Joe Williams, Chris Marshall and Max Harris.

Nominate someone making a positive contribution to our great nation later in their life.

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