Matthew Theunissen

Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Council's divisive survey slammed

Aucklanders shocked by questionnaire on attitudes to Asians

David and Christine Edmunds are upset by the contents of a recent Auckland Council questionnaire. Photo / Michael Craig
David and Christine Edmunds are upset by the contents of a recent Auckland Council questionnaire. Photo / Michael Craig

A "racist" Auckland Council survey that asked residents to rate their feelings towards Asians has been scrapped after widespread condemnation.

The survey was this week sent to 20,000 residents in two of Auckland's most ethnically diverse suburbs, Balmoral and Northcote, and claimed to be intended to improve shopping precincts in those areas.

Locals were asked how they felt — from "very cold" to "very warm" — towards ethnic groups including Pakeha, Chinese, Indian, Korean, and "other Asian" people.

The survey also asked people to say if their interactions with the ethnic groups were favourable or unfavourable; whether immigrants contributed to the economy; and if it was a good idea to have Asian businesses grouped together.

The ethics-approved survey has been slammed as racist — and the council has apologised and pulled the survey. Ratepayers will foot the $18,000 bill for the botch-up.

North Shore man David Edmunds was shocked by some questions in the posted survey.

"We're really being asked to say of our neighbours that we feel very cold towards them or very warm.

"When we talk to people normally, as individuals, there's some we like and some we don't like but we don't put an ethnic slant on it."

Edmunds also felt the "other Asian" category was a racist way to lump diverse cultures together.

Auckland mayor Len Brown expressed regret for the wording and said the council had done the right thing by withdrawing it.

New Zealand Chinese Association national president Virginia Chong believed it to be discriminatory. "We're all equal, it's a diverse community and we should all be treated the same," she said. "To put the racial slant on it is not a good idea."


The council's got no right to be delving into what people think
about different ethnic groups. I hope there's going to be some
recourse to ensure that it doesn't happen again in the future.

George Wood, North Shore councillor

Former Race Relations Conciliator and current Labour MP Rajen Prasad called the survey "very odd".

"It sounds a little careless and when sensitive areas are to be traversed then both the questions and the method of eliciting the answers ought to be considered."

Former Auckland Council ethnic peoples advisory panel member Bevan Chuang believed the survey would invite racist comments.

"I think it would be better to ask questions about changes in the business landscape where there's more ethnic businesses now ... rather than 'what do you think of that Chinese guy next door?"'

North Shore councillor George Wood was "gobsmacked" to learn of the survey. "The council's got no right to be delving into what people think about different ethnic groups.

"I hope that there's going to be some recourse to ensure that it doesn't happen again in the future," he said.

Dominion Rd Business Association manager Gary Holmes said the survey had the potential to damage the very good race relations in the area.

"I'm very surprised that something like that has made it into the public realm and I'm pleased that it's being withdrawn."

Auckland Council chief planning officer Harvey Brookes said the survey was withdrawn because of concerns that some questions, while not intended to be, could be perceived as encouraging racism. The council regretted any offence caused, he said.

The council would write to recipients asking them not to complete the survey and would be reviewing its research ethics approval process.

The survey cost about $11,000 to implement and withdrawing it would cost a further $5,000-$7,000.


Pacific peoples number some 7.4% of the population. Photo / HOS
Pacific peoples number some 7.4% of the population. Photo / HOS

Ethnic mix

NZ's major ethnic groups:

European: 2,969,391 people (74%)
Maori: 598,605 (14.9%)
Pacific peoples: 295,944 (7.4%)
Asian: 471,711 (11.8%)
Middle Eastern, Latin American, African: 46,953 (1.2%)

Source: 2013 Census

Northcote electorate ethnic groups:

European: 36,882 people (61.9%)
Maori: 5,370 (9%)
Pacific peoples: 3,492 (5.9%)
Asian: 12,654 (21.2%)
Middle Eastern/Latin American/African: 1,188 (2%)

Mt Roskill electorate (includes Balmoral) ethnic groups:

European: 22,521 residents (38.9 per cent)
Maori: 3,345 (5.8 per cent)
Pacific: 8,445 (14.6 per cent)
Asian: 23,376 (40.3 per cent)
Middle Eastern/Latin American/African: 1,599 (2.8 per cent)

Source: New Zealand Parliament 2012 electorate profiles

(Some people identify with more than one group.)

- Herald on Sunday

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