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Thursday 12 May 2016 | Published in Regional


NEW ZEALAND – As the New Zealand provincial city of New Plymouth finds itself again accused of redneck behaviour, two would-be Maori councillors say they don’t believe in Maori wards either.

The district is under nation-wide scrutiny following racial abuse hurled at mayor Andrew Judd, who is standing down at this year’s election over his support for Maori wards.

Commentators have described the treatment Judd received, and the community’s decision to overturn the wards proposal, as racist and evidence of a redneck culture.

New Plymouth’s outgoing mayor says he now has an inkling of the effects of racism after campaigning for Maori representation in the province.

The district council voted to establish a Maori ward last year but the decision was quashed by a public-initiated referendum which saw 83 per cent of the 25,000 votes cast against the proposal.

Judd said he was told things like “Maori don’t need special treatment, they just need to be more like us”, that he was a bigot, a separatist, and had supported apartheid.

Judd describes himself as a recovering racist, saying he had formerly shared the motivation behind people’s anger – what he calls “cliched, ignorant statements.

“It was purely based on ignorance and fear because I didn’t have to walk in a Maori world.”

He said he had never been on a marae for the first 50 years of his life, despite living in a province so rich in Maori culture.

Viewers of a story on TVNZ’s Seven Sharp programme last week heard how Judd had been sworn at and spat on for pushing to have Maori representation on the council.

Following the screening, co-host Mike Hosking added his opinion, which echoed the resistance Judd had been describing.

“Sad to say, I’d never personally attack him obviously but he’s completely out of touch with middle New Zealand – there’s nothing wrong with Maori representation on councils cause any Maori that wants to stand for a council is more than welcome to do so and you can sell your message and if you’re good enough you’ll get voted on.” In a statement, a TVNZ spokesperson said there had been formal complaints about Hosking’s comments.

Taranaki Maori Bill Simpson and Chris Manukonga will be among those vying for a council seat at this year’s local body election, hoping to fill the void left by the departure of sole Maori councillor Howie Tamati, also announced this week.

Both Simpson and Manukonga have been scathing of the tirades directed at Judd but neither saw the establishment of a Maori ward as the best way to represent the views of the district’s tangata whenua.

Simpson, who currently sits on the Waitara community board, said a better model needed to be developed to reflect the diversity of Maori viewpoints. Simpson did not support the establishment of a Maori ward when it was first proposed by Judd in 2014.

“We don’t have one Maori to speak for all Maori.

“There are other options that should have been canvassed,” he said.

He said a statutory board which represented the interests of each hapu, as well as Maori who did not affiliate to iwi from Taranaki but lived in the district, was the ideal set up.

However, regardless of his differing view Simpson said the abuse the mayor was subjected to was unacceptable.

But he said it also reflected the treatment Maori had to put up with on a regular basis by the same minority of people.

“I feel for Andrew Judd. I didn’t know that was happening. But we actually have to live it everyday,” Simpson said.

Simpson’s sentiments have been echoed by others, including broadcaster Miriama Kamo who shared her experiences of racism in the wake of comments made by her TVNZ colleague Mike Hosking last week.

District councillor Keith Allum described the accusations of racism levelled against the district unfair.

“I think what is happening to New Plymouth is a great disservice to the community,” he said.

Allum said it was the design of the proposed Maori ward, rather than its intent, which residents disagreed with. When the Maori ward idea was put to the vote following a citizens initiated referendum, 83 per cent of people voted against it.

“It’s nothing to do with racism, it’s to do with the process,” Allum said.

For Manukonga, who is about to embark on his second quest for a council seat, it was important for prospective councillors to represent the entire community.

“I’m standing to represent the whole community. I will bring a Maori view because I’m Maori,” he said.

He said he was “not naive enough” to rule out the possibility people might not vote for him because he had a Maori surname but all he could do was put his best foot forward during the campaign.

“It’s not going to stop me.”

- Stuff