Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards under fire as recipient’s suitability questioned

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch
Apr 03, 2023 |

Source: Supplied | Twitter

WARNING: This article contains explicit language

The suitability of the award recipient at the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards has come under scrutiny.

Shaneel Lal, the founder of the Conversion Therapy Action Group, won the Young New Zealander of the Year award on Friday for leading the efforts to ban conversion therapy in 2022.

Lal’s win has prompted mixed reviews, with political commentator Martyn Bradbury raising questions about the decision.

Bradbury criticised Kiwibank for “awarding the activist who led the mob violence last Saturday” and accused the bank of standing for “political violence, mob rule and the strangling off of free speech.”

Lal has also been accused of whipping up hysteria after suggesting the burning down of a Rainbow Youth facility was an attack on the gay community, despite a Judge saying it was clear from the medical report and other material before him that both offenders had significant intellectual limitations ruling it wasn’t a hate crime.

Lal’s social media activity has also come under scrutiny, with multiple tweets displaying vicious and racist tones. 

Chris Lynch Media was sent screenshots. The authenticity of the content was confirmed.

Source: Supplied | Twitter

On September 13, 2021, Lal tweeted “I am happy to be known as the fag that tore the fabric of society apart and destroyed the heterosexual dream.” 

 In another tweet dated October 18, 2021, Shaneel said “you’re an ugly piece of shit.”

The following day, Lal said “fuck you NZ Herald, you racist, homophobic, classist piece of shit,” while attacking a respected journalist, saying “you piece of shit.”

Lal’s tweets have also focused heavily on race, with one from September 29th 2022 claiming that “white gays use their queerness as a weapon against people of colour,” while another tweet said “this Pakeha man is a fucking cunt.”

Source: Supplied | Twitter

Canterbury University sponsored the Young New Zealander of the Year Award. Its Vice-Chancellor Engagement Brett Berquist congratulated Lal in a press release saying the university “values people and their differences and is committed to empowering young New Zealanders across Aotearoa to respond to complex challenges.”

In a statement released on Monday afternoon, Canterbury University said it stood by the Shaneel as the winner, though said it was not involved in the selection.

The university chose not to answer questions about whether it was aware of the Shaneel’s rhetoric made on social media before or after the awards.

“The University of Canterbury does not select the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards winners. If you have further questions about the New Zealander of the Year Awards, please refer them to the Awards organisation” a spokesperson said.

New Zealand businessman Nick Mowbary, owner of the $3 billion Zuru toy company weighed in on the controversy, stating on Twitter that he was “really surprised at Shaneel winning Young NZ of the year.” 

Mowbary claimed to have had an “odd interaction” with Lal some time back, saying that “all they wanted was to stoke something up creating fake outrage and wanting a fight.”

Kiwibank refused to comment on whether it had faced a backlash from its customers.

However a spokeswoman said “in no way does Kiwibank condone violence or hate speech, however we encourage the acceptance of multiple different points of view with tolerance, respect, and constructive conversation.”

“We also appreciate that not everyone will be supportive of every winner” the Kiwibank spokeswoman said.

“The awards office operates independently and is responsible for nominations and judging. If you would like to make a formal complaint you can email [email protected].”

Though a company spokeswoman, NZME Managing Editor Murray Kirkness said “Shaneel Lal is a columnist (for the New Zealand Herald) not an NZME employee. Any questions about their comments and social media use should be put to them.

“As I’m sure you realise and appreciate, we publish and broadcast a broad range of views and opinions, all of which are subject to rigorous editorial and legal checks.”

It appears some of Shaneel’s tweets have been deleted, but not before being widely circulated on social media. 

A Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards office spokesperson said “Shaneel Lal has contributed massive change for and with Aotearoa in their campaigning and determination on pushing the Conversion Therapy Ban.”

“With this, we honour their mana, their work, and their constant fight, and their commitment to bettering communities for past, present, and future generations.”

The awards spokesperson said “It is clear and true that Shaneel Lal has used their passion and deeply personal experiences on the front line in forums and spaces that can be unkind, and polarising.”

“Shaneel Lal’s efforts and commitment to the Conversion Therapy ban continue and will continue to hold significance in Aotearoa, New Zealand” the spokesperson said.

“It is through a tireless drive for the rights of those who do not have a voice, that real impact has been made. This award is a recognition of the mahi that they have done, and we stand tall and proud with Shaneel Lal as our Young New Zealander of The Year, 2023.”

The awards spokesperson said “It takes a lot of strength to stand tall in a space that can often be filled with negativity from all avenues. In true bravery, Shaneel Lal is enabling a brighter, more inclusive future for Aotearoa, and the communities they serve. Shaneel Lal contributed to not only a win for the queer community, but also for humanity.” 

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch

Chris Lynch is a journalist, videographer and content producer, broadcasting from his independent news and production company in Christchurch, New Zealand. If you have a news tip or are interested in video content, email [email protected]

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