Report By – Anna Majavu
Auckland Mayor Len Brown has conceded at a meeting of the Auckland Council’s Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel (EPAP) that “ethnic” people are not properly represented in management positions at Auckland Council.
The meeting was held on July 13 to debate whether Auckland’s 400,000 “ethnic” people have any genuine influence in the city.
The government’s Office of Ethnic Affairs defines “ethnic people” in New Zealand as anyone whose culture and traditions distinguish them from the majority of people in New Zealand, i.e. those who are not of Māori, white/Pakeha or Pacific Island heritage.
According to the panel’s chairperson, Dr Camille Nakhid, most ethnic Aucklanders work in the voluntary sector and there are “very few, if any, ethnic staff in management positions on council”.
It does not appear that Auckland Council keeps reliable statistics on the diversity of its own workforce. A council document produced at the meeting showed that of the 9052 managers and staff members in Auckland Council, data had not been collected on the race of 4195 – almost half of the council workforce.
The data that had been collected showed that only five percent of Auckland Council managers are Māori, even though Māori make up over 11 percent of the Auckland population.
Pasifika people make up only four percent of Auckland Council management even though they are 14.3 percent of the total Auckland population, while ethnic people (numbering almost 30 percent of Aucklanders) have only five percent of council management jobs.
But Brown denied that council had an institutionally racist policy to reject Ethnic applicants. He said it was the job of the council’s chief executive officer, Doug McKay, to employ staff.
“So I’m not going to jump in there and make judgement calls as to how he does that”, said Brown. But he admitted that ethnic people were not being employed in management in numbers proportional to the size of the ethnic population.
Brown did not respond to suggestions that the EPAP be invited to sit on staff selection panels, saying only “again, it is part of the journey. It is going to take a while”.
However, a speaker at the meeting, Thakur Ranjit Singh, said had he stayed in his job at the Suva City Council in Fiji, he would have become 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? I beg to disagree” Singh said.
Singh added that he had been “prevented from adding colour to [Brown's] very white communications team” despite having a masters degree and many years of experience as a journalist.
“I complained to the Mayor who 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” said Singh, who questioned if he would have been in the same situation if he “was a white migrant British or a white lady from South Africa, or even lesser qualified Anglo Saxon person?”
The deputy chair of the EPAP, Rev Amail Habib, said there needed to be better communication to the council staff about EPAP’s role.
EPAP was not given a chance to contribute to council policies, Habib said.
Nakhid added that ethnic organisations make the Auckland Council “look good” with their numerous cultural festivals, but that the council needed to recognise they were not just “food and festivals” or “a marketing tool” to promote the city.
“We are not just about dancing and celebrations” said Nakhid, calling for Auckland Council to commit to including ethnic representatives on decision making structures and on staff selection panels.
Noah Ghebremichael, vice-president of the African Communities Forum in New Zealand, said the mayor had not responded to his plea for the EPAP to be properly funded.
“They are doing their best but in a way they are set up not to succeed” he said.
The EPAP was established along with the Pacific Peoples Advisory Panel in 2010 under the Local Government (Auckland Transitional Provisions) Act 2010, and both bodies will be disestablished on 1 November 2013.
After this date, the Auckland mayor can decide whether to re-establish the two panels or not.
Brown said the panels were limited to reporting to the mayor only and that the law would have to be changed to give them more influence.
There was almost no chance of getting the law changed to allow for Ethnic and Pasifika representation on all committees with voting rights, said Brown, adding that he would find a way to convey the EPAP’s decisions to the council structure.
Deputy mayor Penny Hulse said she would have further discussions with Brown about his communications team.
“There’s no ethnic representation there. The organisation is going to take a lot of turning around” she said.
Panellists emphasised that they were unhappy that the future existence of the Pasifika and Ethnic panels would depend on the “generosity” of various mayors of Auckland.
Anna Majavu is a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) student at AUT University and a Pacific Scoop and Pacific Media Centre contributer.