Last night I came across an opinion piece on the Nelson Mail’s website that got my back up and I wanted to be outraged.
Written by Ian Barker the piece outlined the Nelson councillor’s opposition to the creation of a seat on the city’s council specifically for Maori representation and I was already irked by the headline of “Maori-ward unacceptable”.
I have been in a Hamilton City Council meeting and listened as one of the councillors put forward his opposition against the creation of Maori wards. Scarily bigoted this councillor prefaced his argument with the statement: “Some of my closest friends are Maori but”. The speech didn’t get much better as he continued to outline his argument; in fact, in my opinion, it spiralled downhill further and hit an all-time low spot with the comment: “Maori should be proud with such people like Kiri Te Kanawa in their race”.
So as I read Barker’s opinion I couldn’t help but feel that seething rage start to boil once again. Before I had even got to the end I was already judging the newspaper for being irresponsible because it had featured such a negative piece without tempering it with the other side.
But how wrong was I?
Well completely it turns out. Two days before Barker’s piece the newspaper had run an opinion from the Te Tonga MP, Rino Tirikatene, outlining his support for the creation of Maori wards.
And so, even though it was only to myself, I take back my criticism of the Nelson Mail. The two pieces put forward both sides of the argument in a fair and balanced way.
On one side Barker suggested if candidates display a policy that appeals to a majority of voters he or she will inevitably be successful regardless of his or her race, religion, colour or sex.
“In my view, the establishment of a race-based Maori ward in Nelson would be at odds with Article 2 of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which requires equality, without any distinction based on race, colour, sex, language, religion or political opinion,” he said.
The opinion received 13 comments and Barker’s stance was supported by several people including the post below from Kate.
“Thank god. You shouldn't get a seat handed to you because you’re maori. You should become a councillor because the people of Nelson voted you in and believe you deserved a place.
“I don't see any Burmese, Chinese, Italian people requesting a personal seat. And I couldn't give a crap if you were a Burmese, Chinese, Italian councillor. Just as long as you do your job and try and make Nelson a better place. When did being a councillor ever come down to the colour of your skin?”
On the other side of the debate Tirikatene argued that Parliament has signalled Maori wards are an important part of our democracy and a mechanism for achieving equality of representation for Maori. He said Maori wards also satisfied the partnership principle under the Treaty of Waitangi.
“The fantasy that Maori wards are some sort of apartheid measure is just that, a fantasy. The apartheid regime believed blacks were lesser human beings and, as a result of this fantasy, they treated them as barely human at all. Any comparison with apartheid is plain wrong, but also offensive,” he said.
Tirikatene’s piece received 22 comments and his stance seemed to receive less support than Barker’s but one poster raised an interesting point.
“It is interesting to note that there are seven (mine makes eight) comments from non-Maori and none from Maori. Perhaps this indicates why Maori have been unable to secure Maori candidates on council. It indicates apathy and a lack of interest in doing something positive through the normal channels of the voting system to stand for and campaign for election,” wrote Jan.
The two opinion pieces were a wonderful presentation of both sides of a debate that is likely to continue for a fair while yet and I think the Nelson Mail should be commended. What are your thoughts?