The decision by the Wanganui District Council to ask the New Zealand Geographic Board to insert the dreaded "H" in the name of the district has had the unfortunate - though predictable - effect of pitching Maori against non-Maori.

Some reactions have had a whiff of racism about them, though the R-word remains largely taboo in polite conversation.

But perhaps it is something we should be a little more open about. Most of us - whatever our hue - have been guilty of racism at some point ... that's life. Usually it is born out of ignorance and it often dissipates as that ignorance dissipates.

Maori TV's Brown Eye programme this week did a much-needed mickey-take on the subject - Nathan Rarere, Mike King and Cameron Slater managing to playfully pillory just about every ethnicity under the sun, proving laughter is a great antidote.

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The issue threatened to raise its head when the Wanganui council considered spending $150,000 a year for the next 10 years on iwi relations.

Four councillors opposed the move at the 10-year plan deliberations - and they had a point, though not one based on racial matters. The four opposers were told that closer liaison with iwi would help "maximise the benefits" of what could be $200million in Treaty settlements.

That is true, and a healthy and respectful working relationship with local Maori is vitally important for our district.

But hard information about just where the money would go and what exactly it would be spent on was in short supply.

Rather the expenditure was wrapped up in woolly platitudes. That does no one any favours - especially iwi.

Council already invests in an iwi liaison committee to further such matters, and a good relationship can be formed without spending a dime.

No matter the sensitivity of the topic, council needs to be able to state clearly just what it is spending ratepayers' money on.