Sunday, July 21, 2013

White Council, Brown Auckland City: Ethnic discrimination?

White Council, Brown Auckland City: Ethnic discrimination?

Thakur Ranjit Singh

I take this opportunity to commend this ceremonial body, Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel (EPAP) for this public meeting with a timely and probing theme: We contribute, we advise, do we decide? I thank them for giving me this opportunity to speak up, as otherwise I would have remained quite as I have already given up on Auckland Council. As media and communications are my fields of expertise and area of grievance, I will speak on these. If EPAP feels that Thakur will give a “feel good” presentation, they unfortunately made a wrong choice in picking me. As a blogger and media commentator, I speak without fear or favour.

Mayor Len Brown at EthnicA conference in March 2012 at Greenlane, Auckland. He promised to look into any complaints about "gatekeepers' who were stopping you. But unfortunately, as the article indicates, the Mayor appeared too engrossed with other issues and failed to live up to this promise. Mayor Brown is urged to help brown up a White Auckland Council, especially its predominately White Media and Communications Department which is tasked to reach Aucklanders, fifty percent of who are not Anglo Saxons.

“I died twice and became the Mayor of Auckland Super City. I know what it is to come back from the dead – and win, “proclaimed a jovial Mayor of Auckland City, Len Brown, to a room full of multi ethnic audience who were attending EthnicA Conference in Greenlane, Auckland in April, 2011.

The issues of transport problems, racism in job market, lack of diversity in the Council staff and the problems of getting past the “gatekeepers” to reach the Mayor were issues that engaged the Mayor during lunch.  Taking this further, the Mayor in his presentation emphasised that there should be no one in the Council, no ‘gatekeepers’ standing in our way to achieve our hope and dreams in this embracing city - a city that was prepared to work with their colour, their race, their ethnicity, their culture and their creed.

He told people to never give up, and invited them to contact and tell him about their obstacles and he would help them stand back up and keep standing back.

Is that commitment true and sincere? I wish it was. This is, because I personally wrote to him with my grievances on questionable recruitment, and why as a deserving media person, I should not be prevented from adding colour to his very white Communications and Media team.

Yours truly, THAKUR RANJIT SINGH, making a point during his presentation at Henderson during EPAP's Annual meeting on 13 July, 2013.".....would I be in the same situation if I was a white migrant British or a white lady from South Africa, or even lesser qualified Anglo Saxon person with an Anglicised name?"
Being one of very few ethnic persons, who studied on Pasifika Pacific Island Media Association scholarship and graduated with Masters in Communication Studies with Honours from the perhaps best media school in New Zealand, Auckland University of Technology (AUT), I could not put my foot in Auckland Council to add diversity to its Communications team. Being a former newspaper publisher, a media commentator, a blogger and a journalist, I could have contributed handsomely, with ethnic sensitivity. My issue is, how many ethnic or Pacific people of this calibre did Auckland Council’s Communication Department receive applications for many media and communications positions they have, even the junior ones? I complained to the Mayor, as was invited to do so in a public ethnic forum. Unfortunately, he has no time and passed me back to the same hounds who threw my CV in rubbish bin, without even giving me an opportunity of hearing me out in an interview. I would have lectured them on how out of tune their recruitment system was which disfavours ethnic people. Questionable criteria of recruitment for communications are, among others, to have had a stint in mainstream media or having worked in a media agency in NZ. This rules us ethnic people out. This is because, in a fast “Browning” New Zealand, media is still very “White.” Hence, migrants and brown-skinned people like us have no opportunity to ever make it to the communications team which is almost fully White and substantially irrelevant to almost half of super city population. You do not necessarily learn communication strategies relating to ethnic communities in media agencies and mainstream media newsrooms. To reach out to diverse ethnic communities, you generally and appropriately need to be one. You need at least some ethnic people with empathy and sensitivities towards ethnic communities and their organisations, somebody who have had experience working with such communities.  Only an ethnic person with hands-on experience with diverse communities can successfully draw media strategies to reach them. This cannot be effectively done by table-bound news media and media agency people, who have rarely, if ever, worked with ethnic communities and have little empathy with them.

CAMILLE NAKHID and AMAIL HABIB, Chair and Deputy Chair of EPAP respectively, both of who echoed the discriminatory attitude of Council as reflected in this article.  Camille:"...we see that there are very few, if any, ethnic staff in management positions in Council or on any of the Auckland committees.... All the well paid positions are held by those that are not from ethnic backgrounds."

The unfair situation here is just like the Council, where unless we have special consideration, and equivalent to list system through which diversity is inculcated like in national politics, ethnic people will not have a voice and decision-making positions in the most liveable city the Mayor is dreaming about. Like me, they will just give up. I have lost interest in the Council affairs, as I refuse to be a prop in any window-dressing meetings. I hope this gives some food for thought to Mayor Brown on how to brown – up the Council.

What representation and opportunities in decision-making do ethnic people have in Auckland Council? Is it really for us migrants with many faces, many diverse voices but with no decision-making powers? Does this ceremonial body Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel (EPAP) have any teeth, expectation of longevity or being entrenched into law? Or is it just a window dressing? However, my question is - would I be in the same situation if I was a white migrant British or a white lady from South Africa, or even lesser qualified Anglo Saxon person with an Anglicised name? I wonder what diversity does Auckland Council’s Media and Communication Department reflect when it has to communicate with fast browning people who would soon reflect some half of Auckland Super City population?

The answer my friend, is blown with the wind, the answer is blown with the wind. This is because, the Mayor who promises to look into such grievances only in ethnic meetings, appear to have little time for such issues. 
If I had stayed back in Suva City Council in Fiji, I was earmarked to be its CEO. Here in Auckland Council, I cannot even get a job as a grass cutter. Would this be the most liveable city for ethnic people like me?

A fast "Browning" Auckland City population. As this article proves, this is unfortunately not reflected in either the make-up of Auckland Council or its staff make-up. While non-whites reflect some 50% of Super City population, this colour is missing from the decision-making team of Auckland Council, which is still predominantly White. 

Your Worship Mayor Brown, I beg to disagree - in your fast browning city which is not represented or reflected in its makeup!

(About the Author: This paper was presented at Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel (EPAP) annual meeting at Auckland Council Henderson on 13 July 2013. Thakur Ranjit Singh is a Fijian Auckland University of Technology (AUT) scholar who graduated in 2011 with Masters in Communication Studies with Honours. He is the 2011 recipient of the Spasifik Magazine Prize and Storyboard Award for Diversity Journalism, honouring his work with Pacific Scoop. The award is given to a graduating journalist who has shown outstanding reporting of ethnic issues and cultural diversity in New Zealand. Currently he is a blogger of FIJI PUNDIT at and KIWI PUNDIT at: He is also a media commentator and political and social analyst, and writes for local and overseas ethnic papers)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ethnic Communities: A mere window dressing in Auckland Council?

Ethnic Communities: A mere window dressing in Auckland Council?

Guest Writer: Dr Camille Nakhid,

[Chair of Auckland Council’s Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel (EPAP)]

[This paper was presented by Camille Nakhid, Chair of Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel (EPAP) Annual meeting at Auckland Council, Henderson on 13 July, 2013. This is an edited version for KIWI PUNDIT]
Our first Guest Writer for KIWI PUNDIT, Chairperson of ETHNIC PEOPLES ADVISORY PANEL (EPAP), DR CAMILLE NAKHID who is a Senior Lecturer at Auckland University of Technology. This is an edited version of a paper she presented.
The Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel (EPAP) in its two and a half years have continued to be involved in a number of activities, submissions and forums since our last year annual meeting in 2012. We have made a submission on the Children and Poverty report, advocated for a number of organizations and movements including the Living Wage Campaign, English Language Partners, Migrant Action Trust, and Auckland Regional Migrant Services through our reports to the Governing Body of the Mayor and Councillors, an ethnic communities forum on the Unitary Plan and most recently in April, the Ethnic Panel hosted a very successful conference on racism and discrimination.

But there is a particular focus to this public meeting. It is focused on the extent to which Auckland’s ethnic communities are represented in the governance of Auckland Council, in Council’s plans such as the Auckland Plan and the Unitary Plan, and in the decision making committees of the Council such as the Accountability and Performance Committee, Auckland Plan Committee, Transport Committee, Strategy and Finance Committee where the decisions made by these committees impact on our ethic communities.
Board Members of EPAP with Mayor Len Brown (sitting, third from right) with Auckland Council support team in one of many contributions Ethnic Panel makes to Auckland Council. Is this only a window -dressing and "feel good" expedient move of the Council and Mayor Brown? It appears so, with only $87,000 allocated to a body representing some 400,000 Aucklanders.. You be the judge
At the moment, the council has twenty-one councillors including the mayor none of whom can be considered to be of an ethnic background which is defined by the Office of Ethnic Affairs as someone who is non-Maori, non-Pasifika and not of the mainstream European population. Of our local board members, one can identify just four of the more than 100 local board elected members (149) who come from ethnic backgrounds. Without an ethnic perspective in the governance of Auckland, it is difficult for the concerns and interests of Auckland’s ethnic communities to be represented, heard and acted upon. If we view the ethnic person as not entitled to our vote simply because they do not belong to our own ethnic group, then how different are we from the mainstream European who does not vote for us for that same reason.
Another contribution of EPAP to Auckland Council consultation process. Here some members of EPAP are seen during one of their meetings: Sitting from L-R, Amail Habib (Deputy Chair), members Jeet Suchdev, John Hong and Dr Camille Nakhid (Chairperson of EPAP). The issue is for EPAP to get some legal recognition and permanency in the decision making of Auckland Council affairs.
 As ethnic communities, we need to realize our common goal – the well-being of all our ethnic communities. Not just some. Not just the wealthy or the established. All of us make some contribution to the advancement and progress of Auckland in our own way. We are some of Auckland’s most qualified people with many of us self-employed. So let us give each other, the consideration that each deserves. As an ethnic panel, we have advised the council on a range of issues, plans and policies. We are meant to be the voice of the more than 400,000 ethnic residents here in Auckland. That is about 28% of Auckland’s population. Yet, as a panel, we receive $87,000 to represent, according to the legislation, the concerns and interests of Auckland’s ethnic residents. That is less than 22 cents for each of us. How are we realistically meant to do this when all twelve panel members hold full time jobs whether in the home or the workplace?
Some people present at EPAP's annual meeting. Nearest to camera are Mayor Len Brown, Labour List MP, Dr Rajen Prasad and Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse. Dr Prasad assured the meeting that he is introducing a Private Members Bill to give some legal status and permanency to Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel (EPAP) and the roles ethnic people can play in decision-making of Auckland Council, WITH GREATER COMMITMENT AND RESOURCES.
We are not here to ask for personal payment. But what we want the council to do is to properly resource an ethnic advisory panel so that it can be a more effective voice to the Council on your behalf. To begin with, the Council needs to provide the panel with council staff who understand that if Council wants our advice, this advice can be given only after full and proper consultation with our ethnic communities. In that respect, we need council staff who recognize and accept that the perspectives of ethnic communities need to be reflected in council’s plans and policies if ethnic communities are to enhance their contribution to Auckland, and to know that their contributions to the region are valued.
Mayor Len Brown at EPAP Annual meeting, doing his presentation. Is he going to walk his talk on multiculturalism and inclusiveness he talks in all ethnic meetings? Does the Council and his support staff share his sentiments? It appears not, as the Council's staff make-up does not reflect the colour of the Super Auckland City population - IT IS STILL TOO WHITE. Will he do anything about it, or like Bob Parker of Christchurch, waits to be let embarrassed and down by his CEO.
 We have already referred to the absence of ethnic councillors in council. But if we are to look further at the council staff themselves, we see that there are very few, if any, ethnic staff in management positions in Council or on any of the Auckland committees. Where you can find us is in the voluntary sector. All the well paid positions are held by those that are not from ethnic backgrounds. What does that tell us, not only about Auckland, but of Auckland Council? True, it is up to us to organize ourselves to support each other as we stand for local boards and councils. But given that we lack the critical mass to elect ourselves to these positions, we need to do what we can to get ourselves to where we can make decisions on our own behalf. For example, who sits on the appointment panels for council staff positions? This is where we can make a difference.
Mayor Brown with Thai dancers. Are the face of ethnic communities only for dancing and adding colour to the multiracial mantra of Mayor, WITHOUT ANY SAY IN ANY DECISION-MAKING? Are we ethnic communities mere cheer-leaders for Auckland Council? Is that all we are? Food and festivals? A marketing and campaign tool?
To be honest, we make a Mayor and a Council look good. A Mayor only has to refer to the presence of an ethnic panel, and to indicate his or her support for us, and for ethnic communities and their food and festivals, and he or she gets the support back from the ethnic communities through their votes. But is that good enough? Is that all we are? Food and festivals? A marketing and campaign tool? There is no doubt that there is a lot of support for an ethnic panel and for ethnic communities from this Mayor and from several of our Councillors. But it is time that that support was translated in to commitment. We need commitment from Auckland Council to let ethnic communities have their own say in the decisions of the Council and commitment to change the way that council represents and promotes ethnic communities so that we are not just about dancing and celebrations.
Mayor Brown at a stall in Mt. Roskill. Are ethnic communities only about food, dance and festivals? That is what EPAP is requesting Auckland Council. They need some legal recognition  from statute and laws that require Auckland Council to give them the special place they deserve, not mere window-dressing at the generosity and whim of Mayor and the Councillors.

Ethnic communities collectively need commitment to have us sit with the rest of Auckland as we decide on Auckland.

Anything else is just not good enough.


[About the Author: Dr Camille Nakhid is from Trinidad and Tobago. She completed her Masters and Doctoral degrees from Auckland and works as a Senior Lecturer for Auckland University of Technology (AUT). Apart from Chair of Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel (EPAP), she is also the Chair of Migrant Action Trust and a founder and board member of the Waitakere Ethnic Board (WEB).