When Tommy Wilson decided to organise a public debate to raise funds for community support organisation Kai Aroha, he didn’t have to look far to find a suitably contentious topic, or two equally contentious speakers.
The Tauranga City Council this year agreed to establish a Maori ward for the 2022 local government elections. The decision was welcomed by local iwi but decried by some – one of them being serving councillor Andrew Hollis, who voted against the move.
‘The Great Debate’ will see a prominent speaker for each side of the Maori-seats-in-local-government argument face-off at the Greerton RSA at 6pm on October 4.
Interestingly, both are called Andrew, and neither of them is Maori.
“Andrew Hollis has got some strong opinions about there not being a Maori seat on the council and he’s a councillor for the Tauranga City Council,” Tommy says.
“Andrew Judd, who was the mayor of New Plymouth, was a strong advocate for getting one [a Maori seat] on that council… and he lost his mayoralty because of it.”
“I heard Andrew Judd speak last year and he’s an amazing spokesperson on why there should be a Maori seat on councils,” Tommy says.
“Then I saw Andrew Hollis getting a lot of severe push-back from local Tauranga people, especially Maori, following his comments about our council’s move towards establishing a Maori ward.
“So you’ve got two great opposing views and it’s been a really hot topic. I thought let everyone make up their own mind by listening to both opinions,” Tommy says.
“Andrew Judd was always going to be on board and after a couple of coffees and korero Andrew Hollis was too.
“I don’t have a problem with anyone having opinions about anything, especially when they’re brave enough to share them,” Tommy says.
“It’s the ones who I call the ‘Ngati Whingers’, who don’t share them, who are probably more of a challenge than anyone.
“Anyone who wants to moan about everything without coming up with a solution, or a reason for their complaint, I call them ‘Ngati Whingers’,” he says.
“We can only seat 170 and I think it’ll sell out pretty much immediately because we’ve already had a lot of interest.”
New Zealand legislation allows for council decisions regarding the establishment of Maori wards to be overturned by referendum if sufficient constituents call for one.
It’s because of this that the issue may be far from settled in Tauranga.
“I’m hoping the people that will come are those that need to hear both sides so that if it does go to a referendum… about whether we should have Maori seats on council or not… those that don’t understand or haven’t made up their mind will be become better informed,” Tommy says.
“If COVID has taught us anything, it’s blaming people gets you nowhere but supporting and kindness gets you everywhere. The correct information is key isn’t it?”
Andrew Hollis says he did experience a bit of angst when approached about taking part in the event but that after talking with Tommy he could see he was a decent guy who genuinely wants to have a debate.
“It [Maori wards] has been a very heated discussion in the city and it’d be quite nice to have a discussion that lets both sides of this schism at least start talking,” he says.
Proceeds from the debate will go towards Kai Aroha which is about to start preparing up to 500 meals a day at the Greerton Hall for members of the community.
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