Week in Review

Tamihere adds insult to infamy

John Tamihere’s decision to run for the Auckland mayoralty has turned what is usually a bland contest into one that is becoming more bizarre by the day or, more accurately, the night.

At a debate with incumbent Phil Goff in a Ponsonby bar on Tuesday night, Tamihere used the Nazi term “sieg heil”.

He claims it was in response to Goff restating his opposition to last year’s speaking tour by Canadian right-wing provocateurs Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern.

A video of the debate shows Tamihere used the words, which mean “hail victory” and were often used at Nazi rallies, after Goff had been talking about ethnic diversity in Auckland.

Goff described it as “weird” at the time and later told Newsroom that at the same debate he heard Tamihere muttering under his breath “I’m going to get you”.

Tamihere’s propensity to use the language of the third Reich, (he has previous form in this area), wasn’t the only bizarre incident. Later on in the night he claimed when he and Goff were both cabinet ministers in the Clark government “Goff and his mates” had sent him to the back of the bus because he was a “half-caste”. A bemused Goff was further taken aback when Tamihere accused him of electoral fraud and chanted “you’re a fraud, you’re a fraud” and “you’re going to jail”.

Unless his aim was, as one experienced local government reporter suggested, to simply grab the headlines, the next day didn’t play well for Tamihere.

His use of “sieg heil” was widely condemned. The Jewish Council said the words should be consigned to “the garbage heap of history”.

This morning, on RNZ’s Morning Report, the two men went at it again. Tamihere refused to apologise for his Nazi remark, saying he didn’t come from a privileged background like Goff and in his world people did and said things differently.

The Holocaust Centre of New Zealand put out its second statement within 24 hours, saying there was widespread concern in the community over the Tamihere’s use of “sieg heil”.

“Mr Tamihere uses Nazi language – the language of race hatred – in a throwaway manner. It is deeply irresponsible and incites hate in one of the world’s most ethnically diverse cities. It is utterly unacceptable for a public figure to evoke Hitler and the Nazis as Mr Tamihere is doing.”

Last night the Goff/Tamihere road show was at St Matthews in the City church. This was an unusual event. Not a debate but more of an inquisition.

The candidates had to answer yes or no questions about their commitment to pay a living wage and then sign a pledge based on those answers.

Things did not start well for Tamihere. Before the meeting began Tamihere’s team had already received a ticking-off from the Rev Dr Susan Adams. They had hung a “Vote John Tamihere” banner inside the church and were promptly told to remove it.

“This is a church and this is a people organised event where the people are in control. I don’t think they [Tamihere’s people] understood that,” Dr Adams told Newsroom.

The meeting was organised by Living Wage Aotearoa which is campaigning for the Auckland Council to become a Living Wage Employer.

Auckland Council started paying all its direct employees the living wage on September 1, but doesn’t qualify for full status until it extends the higher hourly rate of $21.15 an hour to its contractors. Wellington and Dunedin City Councils, plus 160 private employers have committed to doing this.

The meeting started at 6.25pm but Tamihere’s chair sat empty until he turned up at 7.09 pm.

The scene was set with speeches by two contract workers for Auckland Council entities.

Lavinia Kafoa, a security guard at the Ōtāhuhu railway station, spoke about how she works from 6am to 6pm but can’t make ends meet.

“I’m a solo mum, life is very tough, sometimes my kids don’t have enough to eat.

“I don’t feel safe [when working a late shift alone] but I have no choice, I can’t afford to stay at home.”

Palu Vaitai is a cleaner at a council building. She works 60 hours a week, Monday to Friday 10am to 10pm. Her take home pay was $778 a week of which $560 went on rent.

“Every week I am really stressed. I need to take my son to an eye specialist but I don’t have enough money because I need it for petrol to get to work.”

Cat MacLennan, a barrister and living wage researcher outlined a number of ways the Auckland Council could save enough money to pay all its contractors a living wage. These included cutting the Council’s travel budget and reducing the $85 million it is spending on downtown work for the America's Cup. The latter suggestion received the biggest cheer from the crowd of 150 people.

The candidates were given three minutes to speak. Goff went first and said he had already halved the travel bill and instead of being chauffeured to the meeting, like other mayors would’ve been, he drove himself in a small electric car.

He said his next priority as mayor was to extend the living wage to council-contracted cleaners and then eventually to all contracted staff.

Tamihere devoted his three minutes to an, at times, emotional speech on wage disparity.

He told Living Wage Aotearoa they needed to “wake up” and look at the inequality downtown.

“Here is the problem with this debate, we can talk about $42,000 [annual living wage] but the council’s CEO earns $750,000 a year. One in five people [in the Council] are on six figures. Let’s have a proper conversation here.”

Both men signed the pledge to promote accreditation of Auckland Council to becoming a living wage employer and the meeting was finished.

Tamihere left the church immediately. Goff stayed for prayers and pizza.

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