Councillor protests at 'tokenism'

By Alexandra Newlove

Councillor Stuart Bell.
Councillor Stuart Bell.

A Whangarei district councillor has gone on strike from a committee in protest over the appointment of a Maori adviser, saying he has no interest in participating in meetings with "race-based appointments".

Councillor Stuart Bell said while he was pro-Maori engagement, he saw the appointment of the adviser to the planning committee, otherwise made up of elected councillors, as "tokenism" and said it was actually offensive to Maori.

"I boycotted [the] meeting, and may boycott more in the future, because in my opinion there is currently very little or no benefit in having race-based appointments of non-elected members on council committees."

The decision to hire an adviser followed a tense debate at December's planning committee meeting, with mayor Sheryl Mai using her casting vote to decide the 7-7 split. None of the 14 Whangarei District councillors are Maori, while about 26 per cent of the district's population identified as Maori. Both the Local Government and Resource Management acts demanded Maori input in council decision-making. Adviser Julianne Chetham - who did not have committee voting rights - started on Wednesday, though Mr Bell's chair was empty beside her.

Mr Bell said WDC needed to make more effective use of its hapu representative group Te Huinga and should be consulting with Maori "long before the ink has dried on the draft consultation documents".

"I've been elected to represent the whole community and I'm being told because I have white skin I can't do that effectively? We've been told about the Maori lens. But even within Maoridom everyone looks at life differently," he said.

He would spend the one to two hours he usually spent in the meeting on other council-related work, he said.

Ms Chetham said WDC had made good inroads consulting with tangata whenua and described her role as "the next step".

"I'm not worried, hopefully he will come back at some point. It's a learning process for me and for [councillors]," she said. "In my view, this is a way of getting that other perspective and being able to provide high-level advice ... and at the same time report back to Te Huinga on what might be coming up. That's where I'm hoping that I can add value."

Ms Mai said she was 100 per cent proud of the new appointment, and said Maori had a "whole way of thinking about the world, and the way the community was made up" that differed from Pakeha councillors. The mayor said she did not think shunning the meetings was a good course of action.

"It gives us the governance perspective on management issues. The governance perspective from a Maori worldview as opposed to a Pakeha world-view."

- Northern Advocate

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