Monday, November 24, 2014

When Auckland Council fails to engage with ethnic community: A case of demographic imbalance

When Auckland Council fails to engage with ethnic community: A case of demographic imbalance

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Reference in this article to Ferguson, USA is to draw an analogy to ethnic imbalance that exists in strategic positioning of media and communications portfolio, not only at Auckland Council but other organizations which are frustrated at their inability to reach to out to increasingly non-Anglo-Saxon (European) people.

The forum was informed that English, Maori, Samoan, Hindi and Mandarin (Chinese) were languages most spoken in that order. If some 40,000 Punjabi and Gujarati speakers are taken in (many are bilingual with Hindi) then Hindi is the third most spoken language in New Zealand, especially Auckland. Yet, Carol Hayward from Engagement Communications team at Auckland Council, could not name an Indian Communications person in her team.

Part of audience at Waitakere Ethnic Board (WEB) Forum on "Engaging with ethnic communities at local level" Second from left in front is the President of WEB, Tuwe Kudakwashe, who spoke about racial imbalance in communication and engaging staff of Auckland Council
In an earlier Waitakere Ethnic Board (WEB) Forum on elections in August 2014, I seemed to have hit a sensitive nerve, or perhaps poked a hornet’s nest. I stated that because of Henderson-Massey Local Board’s indifference attitude towards WEB, which was based in Henderson, it (WEB) was considering shifting to Whau Local Board, based in New Lynn. Whau Local Board is not only the best reflection of a multicultural Auckland, but it is also very receptive to funding needs of WEB, which represents and advocates for ethnic communities. Whau Local Board is the face of Auckland, with a Samoan, a Tongan, a Chinese, an Indo-Fijian and of course the mainstream Anglo-Saxon Kiwi board members. Auckland Council or most of its other Local Boards, like the mainstream media, does not bear the demographic resemblance of a fast “browning” city. To give an illustration of this demographic imbalance, I had given an example of a US city, Ferguson, which has been in the news for wrong reasons.

Ferguson is a city in St. Louis County, Missouri, United States. It is part of the Greater St. Louis metropolitan area. The population was 21,203 at the 2010 census. Two thirds or just over 14,000 are American-Africans (Black) while the others are White American. According to The Washington Post, the Ferguson Police Department "bears little demographic resemblance" to the mostly African-American community, which already harbored "suspicions of the law enforcement agency" preceding Brown's shooting, with 48  (over 90%) of the police force's 53 officers being white. It gained international attention on August 9, 2014, when a young man, Michael Brown, was fatally shot by a Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer, sparking ongoing protests and civil unrest, which continues to date. (This case is still causing racial ripples in USA). Based on my statement, the Chair of Henderson –Massey, Vanessa Neeson had reportedly expressed her displeasure, and wanted a meeting with WEB and yours truly, but this never eventuated.

Some of WEB Executives, presenters and support personnel at the Forum
The latest WEB Forum on 12 November, 201 4 at New Lynn Community Centre kept digging up on that sensitive nerve as it was about “Engaging with Ethnic Community” at Local Government level. The President of WEB, Tuwe Kudakwashe led the discussion by pointing at lack of color in the Council where ethnic communities felt neglected, where “blue-eyed” boys got jobs which required engaging with the wider ethnic communities.

Presentations were by the Chair of Whau Local Board, Catherine Farmer, Steve Tollestrup from Waitakere Ranges Local Board, Peter Chan from Henderson-Massey Local Board, Carol Hayward, Senior Specialist Engagement and Consultation, Communications and Public Affairs of Auckland Council and Dr Camille Nakhid, Associate Professor at Auckland University of Technology and former Chair of EPAP- Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel.


Peter Chan
Steve Tollestrup

Catherine Farmer

One bone of contention was the composition and action (or rather the lack of it) of EPAP. KIWI PUNDIT will carry a special article on this subject, as to how EPAP has become a laughing stock of the Council and ethnic people. It was acknowledged that  hardly anybody know who these people are and many felt that it appears the new EPAP members are cheerleaders of the mayor, and merely add color to a white Council, without any teeth or longevity.

When asked how many people had responded to or knew about submissions to Auckland Plans, only a few hands went up reluctantly. This shows that despite their multi-million dollar communications budget and a media strategy that is still very white, Auckland Council is unable to engage with ethnic communities. Like in case of Ferguson mentioned earlier, it had to do with demographic imbalance. The forum was informed that English, Maori, Samoan, Hindi and Mandarin (Chinese) were languages most spoken in that order. If some 40,000 Punjabi and Gujarati speakers are taken in (many are bilingual with Hindi) then Hindi is the third most spoken language in New Zealand, especially Auckland. Yet, Carol Hayward from Engagement Communications team at Auckland Council, could not name an Indian Communications person in her team. Not that there have been no interest. Mayor Len Brown and CEO Stephen Town are aware of the complaints of an Indian Masters in Communications Graduate with Honors from AUT, who failed to make it to Auckland Council’s engagement team, and he, like most ethnic qualified people unable to be recognized for their skills, is driving a bus. As the President of WEB quipped earlier on, recruitment at Auckland Council is obviously lopsided in favour of “the blue-eyed “boys who get preference in communicating and engaging jobs in a fast “browning” landscape where the recipients are ‘foreign’ - ethnic people.

Carol Hayward

Dr Camille Nakhid












The reason this article began with reference to Ferguson, USA is to draw an analogy to ethnic imbalance that exists in strategic positioning of media and communications portfolio, not only at Auckland Council but other organizations which are frustrated at their inability to reach to out to increasingly non-Anglo-Saxon (European) people. My complaints have fallen on deaf ears and nobody seems to care to listen to a coloured boy. This lackadaisical attitude has given rise to a Frankenstein monster and social media attacks on an unresponsive Auckland Council. Auckland is much civilized than Ferguson and will not have racial uprising.


The author and blogger at KIWI PUNDIT blog site, Thakur Ranjit Singh (left) with former president of WEB and Deputy Chair of EPAP, Amail Habib (centre)  and Auckland Mayor Len Brown at Waitakere Diwali function. The mayor takes all opportunity to beat the drum of a multicultural city with opportunity for all, but fails to listen to grievances of ethnic communities.
However Auckland Council will continue to look hypocritical and receive flaks from ethnic meetings, ethnic blog articles (especially in KIWI PUNDIT) and other occasions where the Council or the Mayor tries to cloud reality and beat the drum of multiculturalism, fair opportunities and world’s most livable city, at ethnic festivals. In reality, all these seem to be myth at ground zero where Auckland Council fails to engage with ethnic communities because of demographic imbalance-just like in Ferguson, USA.

[About the author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is Media and Community Liaison Board member of Waitakere Ethnic Board (WEB). He is media and communications scholar from Auckland University of Technology, (AUT) with Masters in Communication Studies with Honours. He is a media commentator, runs two blog sites and is a social and community worker.]