Citizenship adds a new ability to serve

By Mike Dinsdale

Whangarei disabled advocate Jonny Wilkinson has been in the country for 40 years and has often thought about becoming a New Zealand citizen, but he's finally taken the plunge so he can better serve the community.

Yesterday, Mr Wilkinson "bit the bullet" and swore allegiance to the Queen and this country, swapping his British citizenship for New Zealand citizenship in a special ceremony at Hihiaua Reserve on Whangarei Harbour, surrounded by his family and friends.

He said the matter had some urgency as he was standing in the Okara Ward in the upcoming Whangarei District Council elections and for a seat on the Northland District Health Board. While people can vote as a permanent resident, only NZ citizens can stand for elected office.

Mr Wilkinson, who is also chief executive of disabled support entity Taiho Trust, said he came to New Zealand in 1970 with his British-born parents from Fiji after the island nation gained independence.

He had been thinking for years of becoming a citizen, but had never really got around to it.

Now the thirst for public office, so he could "give something back to the community that has been so supportive of me", had turned the need for citizenship into an urgent priority.

Mr Wilkinson said his cerebral palsy had given him insights he used to advance the cause of disabled people and felt this stood him in good stead to contribute to the council and the health board.

He has been chairman and committee member of the Whangarei Disability Reference Group and been involved in other disability committee's and groups and his personal experiences, and professional capacities, have played a pivotal role in making Whangarei a more disabled-friendly district, including the establishment of disabled parking permits; a walkway to and provision of the hydrotherapy pool at the Aquatic Centre; a freedom swing at the Town Basin children's playground; annual Disability Day Celebrations; Sailability Northland; accessibility audits for local businesses; promotion of Whangarei tourism opportunities within the tourist market and disability art exhibitions.

Mr Wilkinson said he had a very good understanding of the health system and the frustrations people had in accessing medical equipment and health services in general.

"On the Whangarei District Council, I will bring a voice for the disabled and elderly communities to the table. I'm also interested in getting more participation by Maori and youth in running the district."

The local body elections will be held on October 12.

- Northern Advocate

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