Council flip-flop a step back in time, says leading academic

15 February 2011

Opponents to the Auckland Super City's controversial Māori Statutory Board are unwittingly scuttling the city's future by dragging it back to the colonial mentality of denying Māori a voice, a leading Māori academic warns.

Associate Professor Manuka Henare, The University of Auckland Business School's Associate Dean of Māori and Pacific Development, says he is disappointed with the council's sudden "flip-flop" over the funding of the statutory board, following what he calls a "high level of irrational political posturing".

Whilst the council is on a massive learning curve in its first six months of existence, the councillors elected are polished professionals who have been "spooked by anti-Māori sentiment," Dr Henare says.

"It is disturbing and distressing just how nasty this is all turning," he says. "The Māori Statutory Board is just one of this council's unelected boards, yet we are not hearing about opposition to the others in the media and on talkback radio.

"What is being forgotten is that a large proportion of taxpayers in Auckland are Māori, Pacific Island and other ethnicities. In general they support having representation from all cultures living here, and this mentality harking back to the 1860s trying to deny them a say in how the city develops appears to be descended straight from the attitudes of the early settlers.

"I have to question… who are these so-called 'taxpayers' who have used imbalances in critiquing to engender public prejudice and perception? If the politics of culture are going to be part of this council, this city will suffer."

Dr Henare, who has advised on the early development of the Statutory Board, says its $3.4 million budget does not ring alarm bells as being too high, particularly when its functions are understood, but it is difficult to critique those costs when the budget hasn’t been released publicly.

"The Board has to be able to fulfil its obligations to help this council govern a very large multi-cultural city with diverse communities," he says. "That will cost money but generates significant benefits.

"There will be hiccups of process, and we might eventually realise that decisions on representation will come back to bite us, but it is very disappointing that the council has, at this very early stage, been hijacked by irrationality and unbalanced reaction.

"It was decided that Auckland Super City would have a Māori Statutory Board instead of special seats around the council table, and that can't be changed on a whim. Māori have managed the Auckland isthmus for many generations prior to 1840 and are obliged to be there today and the future.

"Perhaps we all have to get used to it."