4 Nov 2016

Swearing-in discrimination "different day, same rubbish"

12:24 pm on 4 November 2016

The Auckland councillor whose Samoan family were refused VIP seating at this week's council swearing-in ceremony says the incident is just the latest example of systemic racism in New Zealand.

Mayor Phil Goff and councillor Efeso Collins at the Auckland Council swearing-in ceremony.

Mayor Phil Goff and councillor Efeso Collins at the Auckland Council swearing-in ceremony. Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

Efeso Collins' wife, daughter and elders, were told they could not sit where they were because it was reserved for council guests.

When they told an usher they were council guests, no one believed them, Mr Collins said.

The incident left him "infuriated [and] deeply embarrassed", he said.

The council had apologised for the incident and denounced the conduct of the usher, but Mr Collins said today that he wanted the question of racial discrimination addressed properly.

He told Morning Report he had received emails from people around the country "to say - different day, same rubbish".

Many Pasifika people had told him they had been followed by security in shops, Mr Collins said.

That was something he had experienced, too.

"I walked into a shop in an upper-market area and was followed around by security."

The swearing-in ceremony was not the first time he had been discriminated against while working for the council, either.

"When I was chairperson of the Otara-Papatoetoe local board ... I turned up to a meeting, said I was chair and was told to sit down and wait while other chairpeople went through the door into a meeting that was to introduce chairpeople to Auckland Council," he said.

All those examples demonstrated that racism was still "systemic" in New Zealand.

"When we look at what racism really is ... this is the materialisation of deeply-held historical ideas of who might be better and who might be more inferior."

He wanted the council and other institutions to introduce cultural competency programmes, where people could share the experiences they had had.

"It's that open and honest discussion that will be able to actually address some of the preconceived ideas that some people have grown up with."

But Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule said the treatment of Mr Collins' family was an isolated case rather than systemic racism.

Mr Yule said the council had apologised for the misunderstanding and the best thing it could do was learn from the mistake and move on.

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