Joel Maxwell is a senior writer with Pou Tiaki.
OPINION: I’ve seen heated arguments covering council meetings over the years. There were shouting matches, insults, cursing – personality clashes, ideological clashes – and indeed walkouts.
But now I’ve heard it all.
Otago regional councillor Kevin Malcolm has apparently butted heads with the, um, Māori culture and language at a recent meeting.
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Malcolm had a showdown with a karakia at the start of the March 8 meeting. It was just too much, so he walked out – leaving the meeting without a quorum, the minimum number of people physically present to allow the meeting to continue.
Is there anything more simultaneously asinine and awe-inspiring than adult-male petulance?
I’ve thrown the odd tanty myself, but I’d never get up and leave a council meeting, for which I was elected and paid to attend, because I was offended by a language, or a culture, or something.
I mean, it was an emergency meeting. Something urgently needed to be decided – in this case it was public-excluded, but the general topic was the ominous-sounding ‘Local Government Funding Agency requirements for funding drawdown’. (The LGFA is a borrowing collective for councils)
Despite the apparent importance of the item, I have to respect somebody who would instead stand up for their beliefs.
Thus, when the chairperson started a karakia, Cr Malcolm carefully packed his Aquaman action figure and his crayons into his briefcase, adjusted his tie, then walked out with head held high and dignity intact. It was 3.32pm by this stage, so he had a wee nap in his car, and woke up ready for a juice box and an episode of Peppa Pig.
I shouldn’t make light of the situation.
All Malcolm asks is that we walk a mile in his rollerblades.
For God’s sake, the karakia wasn’t even on the agenda, he says.
Malcolm told Stuff that while the council was in partnership with mana whenua, “the easiest way to break a partnership is to give someone in a partnership greater benefits than the rest of the partnership”.
Pera Paniora says the issues against tikanga Māori during the first council meeting could only be the tip of the iceberg.
By 1864 virtually all land had passed out of Māori ownership in the South Island (where Malcolm has been a farmer and nursery owner).
From 1860 to 2000, Māori ownership of the North Island dropped from 80% to 4%.
Then there’s incarceration rates. Māori are 37% of people charged by police, 45% of people convicted, and 52% of people in prison. Yet we only make up about 17% of the population.
And hell, dip your toe in the water of Māori health inequities and you’re likely to lose it.
Māori die at twice the rate as non-Māori for cardiovascular disease; Māori children die at 1.5 times the rate of non-Māori. We’re more likely to be diagnosed and die from cancer.
Plus we die seven years earlier on average than non-Māori.
Meanwhile, back at the regional council chambers, they at least didn’t lose too much time: another councillor eventually arrived, so they could restart the meeting.
If I were a voter in Otago, I would want councillors who don’t stall meetings when they get a bit offended. I would want councillors who don’t put personal cultural grievances ahead of doing what they’re paid for.
I would, in summary, expect one of them to grow up and do his job.
And as for Malcolm, who also said “if we want to go back 150 years, we are going to go nowhere”, I would add historical ignorance to his apparent childlike qualities.
People are dying early, inequities are rife – Māori can’t let go of the past because it won’t let go of us.
After all, we have learned the hard way over time that the easiest way to break a partnership is to give greater benefits to one of the partners.