The art of a good debate is all about putting one's opinion across to sway those in the audience — who may be sitting on the fence looking for a reason to go with or against the kaupapa (subject).

Tonight at 8pm on Maori Television could be one of the most engaging, thought-provoking debates ever watched on New Zealand television, a debate that could influence the future face of local government mai ra ano (for years to come) when it comes to saying yes or no to having Maori seats on local government boards.

Taranaki Maori are talking to Tauranga Moana Maori and what was a one-sided, dark-horse race has heated up into a white-hot hangi-stone, and the rest of the country is watching closely.

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If you thought Dr Don Brash's Orewa speech was controversial and divisive, the debate tonight could slam-dunk it.

Standing in the "for" Maori wards corner is Andrew Judd — the ex-mayor of Taranaki who took a stance against what is, in my opinion, the divisive korero of Brash and his pale, stale male point of view and, in doing so, walked away from his mayoral chamber to walk alongside Taranaki iwi.

When the word mana is applied to the content of a man's character and not the colour of his skin — as another doctor on the opposite side of the cultural coin to Brash, Dr Martin Luther King, did some 50 years ago — you get a very clear picture of the mana Taranaki iwi bestow on Judd and the stance he has taken when calling himself a recovering racist.

Standing in the "against" Maori seats corner of the debate will be Brash, who is one of the founding members of Hobson's Pledge and the partner of Western Bay District councillor Margaret Murray-Benge, who has spoken out against Maori wards.

Now the choice is ours to make with the tick of a pen.

Having heard both opinions expressed by Brash and Judd in an open public forum, it is easy to understand how far the divide is in our country.


To say Maori have had and have now equal opportunity is akin to saying women pre-1893 were under the same korowai of perceived fairness.

One must only turn back the pages of history to dispel the myth of the equal opportunities supposedly enjoyed by Maori since the Crown forces showed up — and took everything by stealth — and then labelled those who lost their land as rebels.

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The Battle of Gate Pa has taught us all a valuable lesson on equality and fairness, as has recent reform on homosexuality that many of us have accepted and moved forward with together.

Less than a century ago in downtown Tauranga there were no public toilets for Maori. Nothing equal about that, Mr Hobson, or in my view, the three local Western Bay councillors who voted against the nine other councillors who said yes to bringing Maori on board.

A couple of world wars after that, if you defended your country and you were Maori, you didn't get to march in the victory parade down Queen St. Try telling today's tamariki this shameful fact and then put the Hobson's Pledge to the test.

My Pakeha father, who fought side-by-side with his Maori mates and witnessed this travesty would certainly have something to say to the councillors voting against Maori seats.

Sadly, there are those who still think Maori have an equal say and a seat on a local council is a step too far for them.

We have a history of denial that our kids will inherit if we don't start moving forward together.

What is fair and equal about an invading force taking away the land and autonomy of Maori, and then accusing the resisters of being rebels? Surely, standing up for your land and the survival of your people can only be righteous.

Surely a seat at the decision-making table is fair?

This week we have the opportunity in the Western Bay to bring Maori to the decision-making table where many believe they belong. If we allow the pale, stale male brigade to continue to negate the Western Bay moving forward together, we allow social inequality to remain for years to come.

Still undecided? Tune in to Maori Television tonight at 8pm, watch the debate and decide for yourself.

■broblack@xtra.co.nz
■Tommy Wilson is a local writer and best-selling author.