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Friday, August 2, 2019

Clive Bibby: A departing Mayor shares his thoughts


The retiring Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon (recently appointed as the next Race Relations  Conciliator) is well qualified to share his thoughts about the selection criteria used in choosing candidates to make up the next lot of district Councils and Health Boards.

Given his lengthy meritorious tenure as the leader of the Tairawhiti region, his advice is timely and worthy of consideration by us all.

The reason l am basing this opinion piece on his comments reported in Monday's Gisborne Herald is testimony to not only the accuracy of most of his observations but also their relevance to the dilemma faced in most parts of New Zealand when making choices that will satisfy the shrill demands of single issue groups - foremost amongst them being those advocating the adoption of wards based on ethnic preference.

Of particular interest to me in Monday's Herald article featuring Meng's farewell thoughts was his summary of the criteria used by most of us when we make our selections from the list of candidates on the ballot paper.

He is quoted as saying:

"The majority of people do not judge by colour, religion, age sex or disability. They judge you by what you believe in, what you hope to do, what you bring to the table, whether you will work hard for them and represent their voices at the council or health board table."

I believe that assessment to be a very accurate description of the characteristics demonstrated by the most successful candidates at most elections in recent memory and one that should be adopted as a blueprint for electing future Councils and Health Boards. It is as complete a list as needed to ensure we end up with a group of people able to work as a team in the best interests of the whole community - which makes it all the more surprising when the article turned its attention to " a need for more ethnic diversity" as an additional criteria of supposedly equal importance.

For me this unnecessary focus on one particular aspect of a candidate's background is problematic in that it encourages voters to place greater emphasis on ethnicity when making their choices which may dilute or even negate the attention that should be given to the multitude of qualifications on the A list referred to earlier. During past elections, we have seen individual Councils attempts to placate the demand for greater  Maori representation with the addition of exclusive Maori wards on the ballot. Some of these additional forms of governance have been adopted by Councils. Others have been rejected as an option.

I say each to his own but we can't escape the potential problems that will accompany the expansion of current representation to give preference to one group over the majority. It is and always will be asking for trouble and it doesn't matter whether the ethnic group being favoured is Maori, Chinese or Muslim,  the unnecessary introduction of questions about legitimacy will remain.
Even if Council's representation criteria remain unchanged, any suggestion that our choices should place undue emphasis on a candidate's ethnic background will inevitably result in having undesirable ramifications.

It isn't hard to see how this problem will develop into the full blown variety.

Any emphasis on racial background during the election process may place an intolerable burden on the shoulders of the successful candidate who may feel obliged to make decisions at the Council or Health Board table that are overtly partisan simply as a perceived obligation to be favouring his or her race based constituency. Unfortunately, that situation has arisen with previous Councils that have resulted in time and energy being wasted in the pursuit of objectives that benefit no one.

We need those sort of Councillors like a hole in the head.

I'm sure that Meng was highlighting a need for more ethnic diversity as the ultimate objective in a perfect result on election night and in that context it has merit.

However, it is a result that should be achieved as a consequence of a natural process rather than one arrived at almost in a similar way that preferences are given using a system that allows for affirmative action.

Fortunately, in spite of a fractious history in race relations, the ethnic groups that make up the current New Zealand community have been able to grow in an environment that allows for individuals with different racial backgrounds to achieve at the highest level and to be chosen for leadership roles on merit. Meng himself is the best example of that being true.

So, there is no need to re fight the battles of a time when those minority groups were deemed not eligible to represent us.

The ethnic background of the next Councils should have had no bearing on how the final number are chosen. Personally l would hope they are all selected solely for their individual abilities to do the job. Nothing else should matter.
Clive Bibby is a commentator, consultant, farmer and community leader, who lives in Tolaga Bay.

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Yes I agree. Meng Foon has been great for Gisborne, and I feel sure he will do well in his new role. My family were orcharding in Manutuke, Gisborne -(Mitchell)- and they were all fans of Meng Foon, in all his roles.