New Plymouth's mayor at odds with public

New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd's choice of words in defining himself as a "recovering'' racist is somewhat unusual but entirely his to make.

Mr Judd's mistake, however, was to describe and imply his personal opinions as indicative of what he assumes are also the racist opinions of the wider public throughout New Zealand.

He appears not to understand what is actually at stake is the relationship between the public's widespread and longstanding acceptance of one person one vote and the erosion of that fundamental principle by appointed representatives based on ethnicity.

It has also been reported Mr Judd wanted half his council to be Maori as of right, which could well be offensive to many Maori who may wish to stand as ratepayers - not defined by race, cultural or any historical grievance or connection.

Patronising sanctimony towards any race of people has no place ahead of understanding the crucial drivers of a well-functioning representative democracy.

Regretfully, Mr Judd, as the elected leader of a council, apparently saw an opportunity to push this agenda ahead of principled decision-making by councillors who are duty-bound to understand that privilege in all its forms has no place within local or central government.

It needs to be remembered the New Plymouth councillors who rejected the mayor's proposal did not elect Mr Judd as their leader. The public did, which makes Mr Judd's views on the wider public decision to reject race-based representation all the more surprising.

Nobody, however, should be surprised at the widespread interest in Mayor Judd's controversial personal opinion.

To comment on or even promote a point of view that differs from the conventional wisdom of the day is to invite a public flogging, albeit in a verbal way in these enlightened times. Another wonderful example is the environmental debate, where opprobrium is heaped on those who do not see climate change as anything other than a natural occurrence with some help from fossil fuels.

Receiving your fair share of abuse (as Mr Judd undoubtably has) from those who always know better is something of a badge of courage to be worn with some pride. Whether they be those with strident views on the environment or reformers of the sheep industry, they tend to believe theirs is the one and only true God.

The Middle East is a most appallingly tragic case in point as those with extreme views seek to impose their beliefs on all others. At least in New Zealand most adhere to the principle of equality of all people before the law.

Our lawmakers - whether in central or local government - were always elected by due process, until now it would seem. There would be an uproar if governments gave those ratepayers and taxpayers who paid double the amount of tax as others two votes instead of one because of their contribution to the nation's wealth.

Equally unjust would be a proposition that all Maori over the age of 16 should be given a type of "gold card'' concession to exclude them from paying GST due to their ancestors being some of the first people in New Zealand.

If we as a country were to establish that or a similar principle, then those Europeans who emigrated to New Zealand in the first ships to arrive should also be given special legislative status. Where then does that leave recent immigrants who fled their own country to leave behind the selective privilege which our own Government is now proposing?

Mr Judd is correct to say a reasoned debate should be held before any decisions can be made but given the Government has had six or so years of secret discussions with iwi over freshwater governance, it is fair to say the public will have no say and even less influence over the process to decide the makeup of their local council into the future.

Democratic freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it (Pericles, born c495BC). It seems to me the public's rejection of Mr Judd's view on race-based representation is a sure sign the public are indeed prepared to defend their freedoms.

It is also worth remembering this year is election year for local government councillors. Enough said.

-Gerrard Eckhoff, of Central Otago, is an Otago regional councillor.

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