Report – By Harry Pearl
The Ethnic People’s Advisory Panel, which represents Auckland’s 180 ethnic groups, is seeking to have its status upgraded to a statutory board.
The 12-member panel has a mandate to operate until November 2013, after which its fate is in the hands of Auckland mayor Len Brown.
Chairperson Dr Camille Nakhid says the panel is looking at ways to ensure its role is continued, and one of those options is a request for legislative change.
If the advisory panel is made into a statutory board, its advisory role will continue indefinitely like that of the Independent Māori Statutory Board, which was established in November 2010.
However, Maungakiekie-Tamaki ward councillor Richard Northey, who liaises between the Auckland Council and EPAP, says the council has not supported the panel’s wish for a statutory title.
“One of the reasons we haven’t is because we want some flexibility – the ability to change in the future.
“And there is also the general point that we’re not too happy with Parliament and government telling us what to do unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
Although Dr Nakhid concedes it is not ideal to have central government dictating local government policy, she says given the nature of the city’s ethnic communities and how Aucklanders vote, it is important to have some certainty around the panel’s existence.
“You can see immediately none of the councillors are from an ethnic group.
“So it seems very unlikely that an ethnic person will be voted into the council, because we don’t have that critical mass to vote for an ethnic person.”
Auckland has not matured sufficiently to consider voting in an ethnic representative, says Dr Nakhid.
According to the Office of Ethnic Affairs, the term ‘ethnic’ defines a group of people whose culture and traditions distinguish them from Pākeha, Māori and Pasifika.
Mary Dawson, chief executive of Auckland Regional Migrants Trust, says there needs to be some mechanism to ensure representation of ethnic people in the council.
“I think three years is far too short for any representative group to really get into its full stride, in terms of what it can contribute to the bigger picture.”
Dawson says the panel needs to go on for at least another term in its current form.
“But I wouldn’t know what sort of form that representative voice would take over time.
“In the end, hopefully this is a pathway to representation on all the council boards and local boards.”
Northey says the role of the panel is almost certain to extend, however what form it takes is uncertain.
“I think it would be very unwise not to continue it and I’m sure that most of the candidates that stand next time will include that they are going to continue it in a form fairly similar to what they’ve got now.”
Dr Nakhid, a senior lecturer at AUT University and an advisory board member on the Pacific Media Centre, says the group encountered resistance from the council and council staff initially.
If the panel is to do its job effectively in the future it requires more funding than the current $87,000 a year.
She says the panel has made a number of achievements over the last year, including establishing four sub–committees aligned with council priority areas, providing input on the Auckland Plan and the Long Term Draft Plan, as well as holding three community forums to provide feedback on the documents.
The panel was established by Auckland Council as a requirement of the Local Government Act 2010, which reorganised Auckland’s local government system and ushered in the super city.
Harry Pearl is a Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student journalist on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University. This article was published originally in Te Waha Nui.