11 May 2016

Māori candidates say race shouldn't affect election

8:13 pm on 11 May 2016

Three would-be Māori councillors in New Plymouth say they are not going to let the current race debate in the city put them off standing for council.

Front of the building housing the New Plymouth District Council

New Plymouth District Council Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

New Plymouth has been branded a redneck town after Mayor Andrew Judd announced last week he wouldn't not be seeking re-election.

He said he had been spat at and abused in the street over his support for the introduction of a Māori ward and didn't want to see the issue rehashed ahead of October's local body elections.

New Plymouth's only current Māori councillor, former rugby league star Howie Tamati, is also calling it quits after 15 years.

Now Waitara community board member Bill Simpson, retired manager Chris Manukonga and businesswoman Mary Barnard say they will step into the breach.

All three were against the introduction of Māori wards, and say they want to be elected on merit.

Mr Simpson (Te Atiawa, Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Mutunga) said he felt for what Mr Judd had been through.

"It's not unusual for Māori to face the backlash that Mr Judd has been facing from non-Māori and others.

"We've had to put up with that for a long time," said Mr Simpson who is also of Rarotongan and Tahitian descent.

New Plymouth District Council candidate Bill Simpson

New Plymouth District Council candidate Bill Simpson Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

"As a Māori growing up in Waitara and New Plymouth, I've had to face a lot of negativity about who I am and what I am in reference to my culture."

But Mr Simpson said he did not believe that race would play a key role in his election chances.

"Being Māori is not going to make any difference at all. I'm just hoping the people will vote for the individual, for their skills and for their contribution to the community."

New Plymouth District Council candidate Chris Manukonga

New Plymouth District Council candidate Chris Manukonga Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Mr Manukonga, who was an unsuccessful candidate in last year's by-election, also believed race would play a minor role and thought voters would not be put off by his Māori surname.

"Well it shouldn't if I work hard enough to profile who I am and what I stand for. Well, I mean, you know, whether or not more people will vote for Bill Simpson (because he has a European name), will depend on how well they know me or not."

New Plymouth District Council candidate Mary Barnard.

New Plymouth District Council candidate Mary Barnard. Photo: Supplied

Ms Barnard (Te Atiawa) did not think her race would count against her.

"I think we are a fair district and we go on people's own credibility and what they present to serve the community."

Ms Barnard, who also stood unsuccessfully in the 2015 by-election, said the racism issue in New Plymouth had been blown out of proportion.

"I think the whole issue is really, really sad. The fact there is mention of racism, come on, I have friends of multi-cultures who are Chinese, Indian, Filipino they get hassled all the time. It's not just Māori, there's Pakehas they get hassled all the time too."

Ms Barnard said Māori should stand and be elected in the same fashion as other candidates.

"For the sake of our children and future generations we can't keep asking for special privileges and special rights."

Mr Simpson said he believed people should be voted onto council, but that a statutory Māori board could be useful in New Plymouth.

"Having a Māori statutory board for Taranaki is probably a start because that gives power to iwi and hapū who will decide the issues around Māori themselves, not just one individual representing a Māori ward."

Mr Manukonga, who says he affiliates to all of Taranaki's eight iwi, said more meaningful consultation was the way forward.

"Representation on council is about winning yourself a position on council as an individual, but I guess one of the focuses - and this may not be easy to achieve - is that Māori want partnership not when the decision to go ahead with something has already been made but when an issue or matter arises in the first instance."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs