Waikato councillors censure chairman over racist comments

Author
Nikki Preston, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 9 Dec 2021, 2:23PM
Waikato Regional Council chairman Russ Rimmington said the apology came from "the bottom of his heart". (Photo / File)
Waikato Regional Council chairman Russ Rimmington said the apology came from "the bottom of his heart". (Photo / File)

Waikato councillors censure chairman over racist comments

Author
Nikki Preston, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 9 Dec 2021, 2:23PM

Waikato Regional Council chairman Russ Rimmington has been formally chastised by his council for racist comments and told he needs to better perform on their behalf.

Rimmington has come under fire for blaming Māori for "usurping and jeopardising" the future development of the country at a Local Government New Zealand Three Waters webinar at the end of October.

In a lengthy debate, councillors this morning agreed that they did not support his views saying they were offensive, put the council in a bad light and had done major damage to its relationship with Māori.

The council formally recorded its concerns about his racist remarks and asked him to reflect on his responsibility as chair and his expectations, apologise to all involved and for all councillors to gain a better understanding of the Treaty of Waitangi.

The comments had led to "censure and lack of confidence in him" and the council agreed he need to show "significantly improved performance" on the issue.

Some councillors were only made aware of his comments last week when Māori constituent councillor Tipa Mahuta last week forwarded them a letter of complaint she had received from LGNZ Te Maruata chairperson Bonita Bigham about his "disrespectful" and "racist" words.

Today Rimmington, reading from a statement, formally apologised for the disrespectful and inappropriate marks and confirmed he had apologised to all parties involved.

"I apologise without any qualifications or reservations - I do it from the bottom of my heart."

He said he had brought disrespect to the WRC and the council that he loved and had served for many years.

Councillor Stu Kneebone said Rimmington's behaviour - both racist comments and school yard insults - needed to stop.

He pointed out Rimmington's apology came more than a month after the offensive comments were made and only after the complaint was made by Bigham.

Kneebone was concerned a simple apology on its own wasn't going to resolve it because the hurt probably went a lot deeper than any of non-Māori knew.

"The school yard style insults in an attempt to ostracise... it undermines our ability to work as a team for the community."

Councillor Tipa Mahuta said none of his comments came as a shock to them and she had put up with far too many racist comments for too long and it was not okay.

"Sorry not sorry isn't enough anymore," she said.

"While Russ is the pointy stick, we have created a condition that those comments can be made and often made in our chamber."

She said they needed to call the comments what they were and that was racist.

"It was racist and no one said that to him - and you can't minimise it, you can't qualify it," she said.

Councillor Barry Quayle said council couldn't be silent on this matter or use a "wet bus ticket" because Rimmington's actions had eroded trust and engagement.

"It's not about punishment at all, it's about how we can move forward."

Councillor Andrew MacPherson said the council had achieved good things under Rimmington's leadership and the reputation of WRC had been significantly tarnished within Maoridom and some parts of LGNZ.

"If we don't support this motion, we put Māoridom at arms length."

Stu Husband said he was 1/16th Ngāpuhi and proud of it. He had been called a "token" or "plastic Māori" because he didn't understand his culture and believed more education was needed.

"Where is the treaty stuff so I can help understand my culture?"

Deputy chair Kataraina Hodge said she had a good relationship with Rimmington and felt his latest apology was genuine so would accept it.

"I feel for you Russ that you have come out in this particular instance as saying some comments around Māori which isn't good."

An attempt by councillor Fred Lichtwark to get a lawyer to investigate the issue as they would with a code of conduct complaint did not get council support.