Former boxer with troubled past could have provided inspiration to many disadvantaged young Maori

"Stand up for your sisters and mothers and keep Mike Tyson out of the country!" That was Metiria Turei's challenge to me, but the problem with her demand was that my mother and "sisters" supported Mike Tyson's visit.

Yes, all seven women on our Manukau Urban Maori Authority board - including our patron, my mother Dame June Jackson - thought that inviting Mike Tyson to our South Auckland marae was a great idea. For them the opportunity of having Tyson reflect on his experiences, motivate our youth to stay out of trouble and find positive ways of using their talents would be hugely beneficial to our community.

Unlike Metiria Turei and her ilk, whose opposition to Tyson was narrowly based on his imprisonment for rape and subsequent misfortunes, our board focused on his positive attributes.

They invited a reformed man, his wife, mother-in-law and their children to engage with our community on the marae.


Tyson's dysfunctional upbringing is similar to many of those with whom we work. For the young, disadvantaged Maori men and women getting a second or third chance and having the opportunity of reforming themselves is an essential part of their rehabilitation.

We also know that having a change agent like Tyson who they can relate to and gain inspiration from can make a powerful difference. Mainly we use positive role models but now and then someone who has had a terrible past can help immensely with their tales of where they've gone wrong and how they've struggled to get back on to the right track.

Vic Tamati, whose story is similar to Tyson's, has been the champion of the Ministry of Social Development's "It's not OK campaign" since 2008. He'd been a terrible abuser but Vic is a redeemed man and his work has been hugely beneficial in the war against abuse. Vic appeared in TV advertisements and public forums challenging men not to abuse their wives and kids.

So when we heard about Tyson's wish to visit, it was a no-brainer for us to invite him. We didn't expect however the extent of outrage that ensued.

Georgia Knowles of Rape Crisis said Tyson should not come because he'd never admitted he was guilty of rape 20 years ago.

Tyson was offered a deal not to go to jail if he confessed to the rape, but refused saying he'd rather go to jail forever than admit to something he didn't do.

He served time for the charge. So for Knowles to expect Tyson to confess to being a rapist just to get a Visa to come to New Zealand is simply ridiculous.

Rape Crisis's objection was quickly supported by Labour MPs Darien Fenton and Sue Moroney. Their leader, David Shearer, waded in and then curiously Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples pitched his objection.


Sharples ironically has probably helped more murderers and rapists than any other MP in history and has provided discretionary funding to gangs. Our organisation supported him when the Maori Party began and provided him with an office on our marae, so we were very disappointed that he chose not to talk to us before opposing Tyson's visit.

Mangere MP Su'a William Sio then had a crack at us and Metiria Turei followed up with her criticism. So it was obvious that John Key, who was already under fire because of Kim Dotcom, wasn't going to go against so much political antagonism and risk his reputation over Tyson.

The hypocrisy of this matter raises several questions. Why is it No to Tyson, but Yes to so many other criminals who have come to this country?

Australia's most notorious criminal, Chopper Read, and the triple murderers the West Memphis Three are recent examples of that. And every second rock band that comes here has someone in it who's committed a crime.

And why was it that a Pakeha organisation, Life Education Trust, got approval for Tyson to come into this country with virtually no questions asked, yet my organisation - which is committed to turning around Maori offenders - wasn't considered good enough to be given a reason for Tyson's rejection.

And why is it that so many people think they know what's best for us and patronisingly tell us who should and should not come on to our marae?

Metiria Turei offered to enlighten us about why we got it so wrong and especially wants to talk to the women in our organisation. I can assure Metiria that they, too, are looking forward to talking to her.

* Willie Jackson is chief executive of the Manukau Urban Maori Authority and a RadioLive co-host from noon to 3pm each weekday.
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