Thursday, 7 November 2013

“It’s time for this farcical nonsense to stop.”

It was bad enough that the mayor inaugurated last week in the Auckland Town Hall had the names Len and Brown. Worse still, says guest poster Fiona Mackenzie, that the whole palaver was slathered with irrelevant and demeaning Maori protocol.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown is sworn in as Auckand Mayor at Town Hall on October 29, 2013, Auckland New Zealand. Len Brown was today sworn in for his second term as Mayor of Auckland just two weeks after news broke of a two-year affair with a member of the council advisory board.Powhiris and strict Maori  protocol were imposed last Tuesday at Auckland Council’s inauguration. 

Women councillors were directed into the back row behind their male colleagues, then to the end of the line-up for the hongi. One councillor said she was “shoved” into the back, while another explained that the women simply followed each other. It’s hard to imagine these strong, assertive women, their ranks contain at least one ex-MP, two ex-mayors and a deputy mayor, being so meek and submissive on any other occasion, or for any other reason.

Wherever the truth lies, the appearance of discrimination and rudeness towards our elected councillors (and, by inference, all women) was shocking.

Whoever was responsible for organising the occasion is obviously unaware that: 1) sexual discrimination is illegal in New Zealand workplaces and government, and 2) in politics, one should be seen to be doing the right thing.

Over and above that, this was a local government event, on public land, in a western democracy, at an occasion representing Aucklanders of every ethnicity and gender. So why was Maori protocol even an issue?

The Town Hall is not a marae and it is not iwi-owned. Even if it had been Maori property, the councillors were not visitors to Auckland; nor were they first time visitors to the Town Hall who needed to be welcomed; nor did the women need protection (unless the organisers were worried that Len might continue to display poor judgment). So the use of Maori protocol made no sense at all culturally.

To make matters worse, this sexist and undemocratic treatment has been dished out in council events before. Consequently, it had been purposefully discussed and agreed beforehand that the women councillors would not be discriminated against in the seating arrangement this time – although only because the swearing in ceremony would be preceded by a mihi whakatau (a message of welcome) and not by a full powhiri!

Then, to add insult to injury, while the speeches in English were translated simultaneously and courteously into sign, those in Maori were not translated into English or sign or anything else, making the Maori content meaningless to the majority and showing the very opposite of courtesy.

Furthermore, the “edited-down” mini powhiri still went on for a full 40 minutes, far way too long for the occasion. Many guests, including some councillors’ young children or grandchildren, were simply bored and disappointed.

The Council’s cultural sycophants enjoy western standards of living, status and great salaries, yet they are insisting on imposing inappropriate rituals and third-world bullying tactics on our representatives. What’s more, I bet ratepayers cough up great sums for this privilege.

Western values, as they have evolved through time, are the reason New Zealand and many countries have prospered while others remain impoverished. It is unbelievable that any of us now allow our inclusive principles to be subverted, all for the sake of kowtowing to a bunch of bullies lurking behind a "cultural" façade.

It’s time for this farcical nonsense to stop.

Fiona Mackenzie worked briefly as a teacher, before moving into the finance/investment banking industry, a marketing communications consultancy, and recreational project management (Te Araroa - the Long Pathway). For the last 21 years, Fiona has combined self–employment with parenthood and voluntary work (as a board member/trustee, environmental and recreational worker, community fundraiser, teacher help, and more recently, political pundit).

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