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.
“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.
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.
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?
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 www.fijipundit.blogspot.co.nz and KIWI PUNDIT at: www.kiwipundit.blogspot.co.nz. He is also a media commentator and political and social analyst, and writes for local and overseas ethnic papers)