It used to be that Auckland councillors burst into tears when they made their maiden speeches.

Cr Desley Simpson, newly elected in 2016 from the Orakei ward, teared up when she revealed she was wearing the fob chain of her great-grand-uncle, Sir Henry Brett. He was a city grandee, founder of the Auckland Star and later mayor of the city.

Family also meant a lot to Fa'anānā Efeso Collins of the Manukau ward. In his 2016 maiden speech he said a 7th form teacher had told him he was "too dumb to go to university", but he became the first in his family to get a degree anyway. He talked very movingly of the sacrifices his parents had made for him to do that, and he cried.

The council table is a much more accommodating place than it was in Sir Henry's day. And most councillors, usually while revealing how privileged they feel to sit at it, get blurry eyed as well.


This week, new councillor Josephine Bartley took a very different tack. She's just won the Maungakiekie-Tamaki by-election and she couldn't stop telling jokes.

The occasion did start momentously. Bartley is the first Samoan woman to become a councillor and the chamber was filled to bursting with her supporters. She's a popular and honoured member of her community.

Otene Reweti kicked things off. He's the council's kaihautu oranga, or senior adviser on Maori outcomes, and he spoke in Maori, Samoan and English. "Tamaki Makaurau is a place where the canoes gathered and where the people gathered," he said, "and the waka are gathering again today, to celebrate the 'newbie' among us."

Matua Tautoko Witika responded for the manuhiri, Bartley's supporters, in Maori and English, and gave her a series of gifts, "taonga given to you on behalf of the community ... for what we know you have done and will continue to do".

And, to be fair, during these early formalities Bartley did sit there mopping up the tears with a handkerchief. She seemed nervous. In fact, she seemed, sitting there, like she might be overwhelmed. But then she got to her feet and all that melted away.

She and Mayor Phil Goff did the declaration in the centre of the room, with her reading the prescribed words in Maori and English while her mother and other supporters stood around her.

Auckland Councillor Josephine Bartley. Photo / Jay Farnworth
Auckland Councillor Josephine Bartley. Photo / Jay Farnworth

Bartley wore several lei and Goff wore his gold mayoral chains, and she said, "It's like a wedding!" Then while everyone laughed and whooped their support, and Goff took his turn to sign the papers, she mimed slapping him about the head.

In her speech she thanked a vast number of people. She talked as Collins had done in 2016, about the sacrifices of her parents, who had moved to New Zealand for the sake of their children. "My dad said, 'I don't want to see you sweeping the factory floor next to me.'"
And she added, in reference to her new office in the council building on Albert St, "Well Dad, I'm not on the factory floor, I'm on the 26th floor."


She said she felt lucky. "I got to see David Tua out jogging and now he's on my campagin team." Tua was in the room for the speech.

People recognise her on the street too. "People honk their car horns at me and I feel like a snob because my horn is broken. That's what I'm going to do with my first pay cheque, fix the horn."

When she became a student, she said, she discovered "a new country over the bridge, called Takapuna". She'd become familiar with quite a lot of the city but "I don't have much experience in the West, so maybe that's where I'll find a boyfriend".

It was so not the usual stuff of a council speech. She cared about water qualty, she said at one point, "because the benefits will flow, geddit?"

Josephine Bartley lives in Mangere and is an alumni of Otahuhu's astonishingly successful McAuley High School: decile one, with an academic success rate more like that of a decile 7 school. She was formerly the chair of the Maungakiekie-Tamaki local board and has worked for community and service organisations like Red Cross.

It wasn't all jokes. She talked about going out on community patrols. "My brother is a cop. I see what society has left behind. I still remember the first time I saw a person lying in the rubbish. God didn't create us for that." In her childhood, she said, the neighbourhood shops were valuable little communities: baker, dairy, greengrocer. "There were no liquor stores, they were all in the town centre."

She said she supported the living wage movement and was critical of the way the construction boom was happening in suburbs in her ward like Glen Innes and Tamaki. "It's not just about building houses but looking after people, and that includes preserving green space and perhaps acquiring more green space."

To finish, she revealed she had wanted to become a councillor since 2006. "I have something to say to the many people who told me, 'You won't get there.' Even now there are naysayers. And it's about race, I know that. So to the haters, I say this:"

When the sharpest words wanna cut me down I'm gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out I am brave, I am bruised I am who I'm meant to be, this is me Look out 'cause here I come And I'm marching on to the beat I drum I'm not scared to be seen I make no apologies, this is me.

The culturally aware among you will recognise the lyrics of the song "This is Me", from the movie The Greatest Showman. It got delighted howls of recognition from the audience.

In fact, that song gets delighted howls of recognition from everywhere. I was out of town over the weekend but I'm told half the floats in the Pride Parade were playing the same song. Unity in diversity, Auckland-styles.

After she'd finished, Josephine Bartley tried to return to her seat, but well wishers lined up for hugs and kisses and she was buried in a great pile of lei. That was pretty cool too. For half an hour, they just abandoned the meeting.