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).

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