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Opinion: The Diversity Division

Opinion 28/05/2020

The following is an opinion peice by Leah Panapa.

My first job in radio in the mid 80’s I was a keen teenager who worked 6 days a week for a mere $119. I didn’t care, why would I, I was doing something I loved!  Besides I couldn’t afford to go to broadcasting school so to be taken in by a radio station was a dream come true. I had pestered them in my lunch break (in my school uniform) to try and get any work they had. From making coffees to posting out prizes to eventually learning how to run the desk in the studio. I was a quick learner.

I remember the day when my boss popped his head in the studio (I had been at the station about 6 months) and he congratulated me on becoming ‘full time’. I was confused? I already worked 6 days a week, did this mean I would have to do seven?  He looked a little embarrassed and told me to talk to payroll.

It transpired that the company had been paying me with a Government subsidy of $95 per week, that they had been given because I was a minority.  After the allocated time, it was up to the company to continue on with my employment or not. My boss was congratulating me because after the subsidy finished, they took me on as a full time employee of the company.

Was I happy? At the time.. Heck No! My Mum is European my Dad Maori and I never considered myself a minority? We were taught that you get to where you are in life by your merits and hard work, not by the colour of your skin. 

Now you might think that I should be grateful that it gave me the leg up into an industry I have been in for over three decades, and to a degree I understand that. Would I have gotten into Radio without it? I like to think I would have found another way but I had to prove myself in the end that I was the right person for the job. Something I continue to do to this day.

So when I see National leader Todd Muller defending the lack of Māori MPs on the frontbench, saying the party makes decisions based "on merit" rather than ethnicity, it resonates with me.

Governments have a duty to do their best to represent ALL their constituents. What is foremost is whether they are qualified for that position, not that they are filling a quota.

I am not saying the National Party in its current form has what it takes to win the next election, far from it, in fact they have a lot of work to do,  but the accusation that the lack of brown faces is a problem doesn’t wash with me. 

Our economy is falling off a cliff and what worries me is how we slow the tide of the thousands of people that are losing their jobs, or the SMEs that face closing their doors, not to mention how we will climb out from under the mountain of debt we will face for generations to come.    

That should be the important questions being asked of our leaders.