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Bias and racism within?

Cultural training of Gisborne District councillors will go ahead — but not without strong opposition yesterday from two of them, who expressed their anger and sense of insult at how this has come about.

Training for elected council members was agreed to after allegations of racism made against one councillor and a code of conduct hearing involving two of them.

The council yesterday accepted a staff recommendation to engage Glenis Phillip-Barbara and Dr Wayne Ngata to run cultural tikanga training for all councillors.

This followed an earlier council resolution to organise appropriate training for councillors.

But when the recommendation came before the council yesterday, councillor Andy Cranston signalled his opposition — speaking at first in te reo.

He had no problems with learning tikanga Maori — he had been doing it for years, he said. It was a good thing to do.

His objection was to the reason given for councillors to do it.

How had the council moved from one alleged statement, that had a racist connotation attached to it, to becoming a collective of biased, bigoted, culturally-illiterate racists?

“That is disgusting,” he said.

“That is what this paper is saying, because it says ‘to address issues of bias and racism within the organisation’.”

Learning tikanga was a good thing but the council was being told to do it under a cloud of enforcement.

“As a group of respected individuals, we were all voted here on our merits.

“People did not elect us because we were biased.

“They did not elect us because we were racists.”

They did so because of an element of respect, he said, which had not changed overnight.

Why, as a collective, were they now having to address issues of being biased and racist, culturally unaware and prejudiced?

“I think that is an insult to the council as a whole.”

On that basis, he could not support the recommendation. He had spoken to other councillors who were reluctant to speak out because there would be somebody out there who would say they were racist.

“This is not about that. It is about what we are as a group.”

Supporting Mr Cranston, Bill Burdett said he had written down that the comments were “arrogant political correctness and insulting”.

“How did the council get to this position?”

He supported everything Mr Cranston had said. This was not about tikanga or cultural issues — it related to an earlier incident and a person who “has been giving us a lesson on racism”.

Mayor Meng Foon said the council had made a resolution to have this training.

Should not have been forced to it ‘under a cloud of racial bias’Deputy Mayor Rehette Stoltz, who chaired the inquiry into a code of conduct breach, said during that inquiry it became clear the council had tools available.

The recommendation for the training had been put to and taken on by the council.

Josh Wharehinga moved the recommendation, which he said was a step in the right direction. The council was often accused of going back on previous decisions. It had committed to this process.

Brian Wilson said the council had been through a process and agreed to it. They wanted to act as a collective and have something positive.

It would have been better to do this without the incident happening, rather than being forced to do it.

The code of conduct was not a legal document. It was something the council had agreed to. It was unfortunate that one member was not complying with it.

Karen Fenn “totally supported” cultural training. It was a chance for the council to learn new things if it wanted to develop its relationship with iwi.

Larry Foster was also supportive.

Meredith Akuhata Brown said the council’s values required it to be respectful and tolerant.

She was heartened to see this recommendation. For the district to become the great place, this was a conversation that needed to be had.

She was disappointed to hear some councillors thought the council did not need to be taught this.

It was an opportunity she had not had before in her lifetime. She saw this as making the council better Treaty partners and representing the district better.

Shannon Dowsing said this should be included in the training for each new council every three years.

Andy Cranston said his issue was not the training but the fact it was being done under a cloud of racial bias.

Picture by Liam Clayton