Opening ceremonial is dictated by the bureaucrats at Auckland Council and is dominated by tribal sensibilities. This has its place. It can be executed with dignity and be mindful of the many cultures, religions and customs represented in the audience. Such was the Orakei ceremony. A short greeting was given in Maori by local Kaumatua Wirihana (Bob) Hawke, a leading member of Auckland’s foremost iwi Ngati Whatua. He translated as he went, and delivered his short speech with humour and grace. Mindful of his audience, he spoke, mostly in English, of his deep connection with Orakei where he grew up and has lived all his eighty odd years.
He introduced us to his sisters, who joined him to sing a waiata, a prayer in Maori and sang one verse of the hymn ‘Abide with me’. It was inclusive, thoughtful and, above all, short. What he did not do was insist his audience joined him in his Christian ceremonial. In fact, he made a point of acknowledging that New Zealand is a secular country and that this was reflected in the make-up of the audience.
As Kaumatua Hawke said, this was about welcoming new board members: it was their night. Otene Reweti, representing Auckland Council, made the formal reply on behalf of Council, as he had also on Waiheke.
The whole ceremonial introduction lasted around fifteen minutes. It reminded me of similar dignified ceremonies we used to have on Waiheke under the leadership of Kaumatua Kato Kauwhata of Waiheke’s Piritahi Marae.
What happened on Waiheke was a complete contrast. Tribal grandstanding by Ngato Paoa, whose members all live off island, dominated the proceedings for the first forty minutes. It was deliberately exclusive, long and discourteous. The ceremony was delivered almost completely in Maori, with the audience being ordered to stand and sit (in English of course). Whether the audience knew it or not, this was because they were taking part in a Christian ceremony. I remained seated because I am an atheist.
As with the opening ceremony, so with the formal meeting. Though the format was the same, the Orakei meeting was conducted with decorum. Despite similar power struggles taking place behind the scenes in both wards (the only real power sits with the Chair), the Orakei Board had resolved all their differences prior to the meeting so they could present a unified face to the public. This is important for the electorate. Waiheke factional undercurrents were not so well hidden. The outcome in both was the same with split Chair and Deputy Chair positions.
Colin Davis, the newly elected Orakei Chair, gave an excellent speech outlining the need for local boards to reassert the co-governance model intended by the Auckland Act. This was followed by a short, but sweet, speech by former Chair of the Orakei Local Board, Desley Simpson, who is now the board’s Councillor on Auckland’s Governing Body, representing the Mayor.
After that, the Board then actually got on with business. It immediately reasserted its authority over Council bureaucrats, who had decreed that Remuera library would not open over Christmas, by reversing this illegal decision. Decision making authority for libraries rests with local boards not bureaucrats.
It took just over an hour from start to finish to conclude the Orakei meeting. Meanwhile, two hours after the Waiheke meeting started, we were still being bored to death by Phil Goff to be followed by the equally banal Mike Lee.
Future Waiheke meetings need to be more respectful of the various communities that make up the island mix. There needs to be less grandstanding and more business being conducted. That is what we actually pay them for.