Sunday, November 3, 2013
Fiona Mackenzie: Monkey Business in the Town Hall
Strict Maori powhiri protocol was imposed on Auckland Council’s inauguration last Tuesday (29th Oct). Women councillors were directed into the back row behind all 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 willingly being so meek and submissive – especially as their ranks contain at least one ex-MP, two ex-mayors and a deputy mayor. Wherever the truth lies, the appearance of discrimination and rudeness towards our democratically-elected councillors (and, by inference, all women) was shocking.
Whoever was responsible is obviously unaware that: 1) sexual discrimination is illegal in New Zealand workplaces and government, and 2) in politics, one must 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, 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 culturally anyway.
To make matters worse, this sexist and undemocratic treatment had 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 a full powhiri!
Then, to add insult to injury, the speeches in English were translated simultaneously into sign, while those in Maori were not translated into English or sign, making the Maori content meaningless to the majority. And the powhiri went on for 40 minutes, which was way too long for the occasion. Many guests, including some councillors’ young children or grandchildren, were 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.
at 12:30 PM