Probing the impact of racism on Auckland's diverse ethnic communities | Pacific Beat

Probing the impact of racism on Auckland's diverse ethnic communities

Probing the impact of racism on Auckland's diverse ethnic communities

Updated 29 April 2013, 11:59 AEST

The issue of racism in New Zealand's biggest city, Auckland, has been under the spotlight.

The Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel has hosted a conference examining how racism affects such things as employment opportunities among the city's diverse ethnic communities.

Presenter:Geraldine Coutts

Speaker: Uesitifili Unasa, chairman of the Pacific Advisory Panel for the Auckland City Council


UNASA: Well, I think the issue really has been given over many years a very positive spin around what is generally good relations between Maori and Pakeha, but Geraldine, the issues now is more than that. It's about a diversity of New Zealand and the multi-cultural nature of New Zealand, but particularly Auckland, given that it's a 1.5 population of many cultures and many languages and many people. And so the issue I think is coming to the fore because we are living in a multi-cultural nation and particularly, especially that is Auckland, but an international community. So these issues are inevitable, but I guess it's now about thinking more about diversity rather than just Pakeha-Maori relations.
COUTTS: Now Reverend Unasa, I just wonder how racism when it exists, how it manifests?
UNASA: Well, I mean, you're probably aware Geraldine that New Zealand tends to talk about the Treaty of Waintangi, which is about that historical relationship between the Crown or European and Maori and that conversation in itself excludes the newer migrants that have come into New Zealand, particularly in the 50's and the 60's. And so when we talk generally about New Zealand partnership or the kind of societal political partnership, we're talking Maori and Pakeha.
Now that excludes other races and other minority groups and other peoples who have come to New Zealand,  made New Zealand their home. Now that's the basis of what I think is a racist kind of structure in New Zealand, where you are talking about two ethnic groups at the exclusion of many others and this is evidenced right across New Zealand society in terms of political voice in terms of resource redistribution, in terms of involvement of many people in the decision making which tends to be dominated one, by Pakeha and two,  politically by Maori because of the treaty.
COUTTS: Well here in Australia, it's been talked about and publicised a lot that there will be a referendum once the questions formed to have it, to have the Australian Indigenous communities included in the Constitution. Will a similar action have to be taken to rewrite the Treaty of Waitangi to have more recent comers included?
UNASA: Well, that's certainly the view of the Pacific community in Auckland and Auckland Pasifikas, are as you know Geraldine, the biggest in New Zealand. So what we're saying as Pacific people, is that if there is to be relevant Constitutional framework for 21st New Zealand and beyond, it's got to be some involvement of Pacific voices. And obviously the thinking around at the moment is that the Constitution must have some involvement or input of the treaty if not central to the Constitution. The Pacific communities are saying well we want some Pacific principles there that include us, which means that it's about reshaping and reforming what is a historical relationship to suit what is becoming a Pacific city in no doubt whatsoever.
COUTTS: Well, what's it going to take to get it to that point?
UNASA: Good question. I think there's got to be some political will to say we're no longer of just Pakeha and Maori. It's a nation of Asian people and Pacific and, of course, many others from around the world and I think the issue at the moment is that whilst Maori and Pakeha are still going through the politicised process of treaty settlement, it doesn't actually resolve the fact that we have an emerging Pacific community and certainly an Asian community that wants to be part of the conversation and part of the future of New Zealand. It requires political will, but that's going to take some working.
COUTTS: All right. Now, you had what's described as a mini conference on racism as it impacts on Auckland. What were some of the outcomes of that mini conference?
UNASA: Well, the conference was led by the Ethnic Pacific People's Advisory Panel to the Auckland Mayor and Auckland Council. I myself wasn't part of that. But the issues are the same Geraldine. It's about being part of the decision making process.
At the moment,  Auckland Council seats are elected according to the ward system, but certainly for the ethnic communities, particularly the Asian community, they have no counsellors only the advisory panels that voices the concerns of that community. Similarly, with Pacific, we happen to have two Pacific councillors, not because they're Pacific, but because they represent wards that have the majority of Pacific people reside in them. 
What we're saying along with the Pacific, with the Ethnic Panel, is that we need some clear recognition that ethnic people and Pacific people have a voice and a place in the life of Auckland City. So the issues are around opportunities, around employment, around decision making and around being real people of Auckland City.
COUTTS: And do the requirements or the needs vary from one ethnic group to another or are they fairly similar issues that they share?
UNASA: Obviously there are some strands that are different, such as peoples' political affiliation to Auckland and New Zealand. Pacific people have historical treaties and commitments between New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, for example, Tokelau, Cook Island in Niue are New Zealand citizens, so there's a slight difference there between some of the Pacific nations and our Asian brothers and sisters. 
But the issues are the same and there are key issues around employment, education, around economic opportunities, but also the key one I believe is about participation and the decision making of Auckland City and of course, of New Zealand. Those are the key ones that bring all these minority groups together, including Pacific and ethnic groupings to the fore. It says we belong to the city. We need a structure and we need a real voice in the way we do things in Auckland and New Zealand.
Geraldine, you might be interested that the Human Rights Commission in New Zealand last July released a paper which says, a discussion paper which was entitled "A Fair Go For All", addressing structural discrimination in Public Services in New Zealand. That's an acknowledgment that things are not quite as good as people like to make out and this is what these minority communities are saying, including Pacific communities.
COUTTS: Well, what will the Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel now, you're a member of the Pacific Advisory Panel in Auckland. What will you do with the information you gleaned from the mini conference?
UNASA: Well, I think it's about giving voice and ensuring that the issues are articulated. They have to be fair, they have to be articulated, because these things can't be sort of swept under the carpet say they don't exist, because that tends to be the dominant view of our population in New Zealand. But for those at the other end of this discrimination or racism or segregation as some have said are not getting a fair deal and I think that's what people are saying. We need to keep speaking about these issues, we need to keep raising these issues and we actually need to keep talking about these issues, even if they take some energy and some thinking and some courage.
COUTTS: Well, there's one issue on the table right now and they're the proposed changes to the labour laws. Su'a William Sio (NZ member of parliament) is saying that that will benefit the employers over bargaining, but it won't help any of the ethnic communities, because they have English as a second language. So here's an issue right on the table now that needs to be looked at?
UNASA; Absolutely. I mean, most, if I can speak from our Pacific communities point of view, most of our work force are in the lower income bracket of work, they do manual work and it's a young population which according to the specifics here are coming out of schooling and education, worse off in terms of qualification in terms of the general population. So as the government here and as people in New Zealand realise that the Pacific population is going to be critical in the future to support New Zealand superannuation and economy and so forth. We need to have opportunity that's going to benefit what is I think a very marginalised labour force community that is Pacific. So yes, they're big issues and they won't go away.

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