The council and the 'i' word


26 November 2018

Muddy Waters

When New Zealand's wordsmiths are searching for the word of 2018, will “iwitocracy” be up in the list?

It is likely this “offensive” word may have received a boost given the actions of the Rotorua Lakes Council.

The word was used by a person signing the ginger group petition opposing the Rotorua lakefront development.

Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers secretary Reynold Macpherson was in the midst of presenting the petition against the development when he was closed down.  He had just gone through the background to a presentation projected on a screen adjacent to councillors at their November meeting.

One of the lines in his presentation repeated comments from people signing the petition, including one who used the offending word.

Mayor Steve Chadwick immediately stopped the presentation, saying it had reached the five-minute limit for such presentations and this was followed by Deputy Mayor Dave Donaldson who said he found the word quoted above “offensive not only to myself but to people in this room and a large number of our community."

The word itself is based on “plutocracy”, which is based around the opposite of “democracy”, in as much as it refers to a society “ruled or controlled by people of great wealth or income”, Wikipedia reports.

The first known use of the term in English dates from 1631. Unlike systems such as democracy, capitalism, socialism or anarchism, plutocracy is not rooted in an established political philosophy.

Strictly speaking, it is wrong to apply this to the lakefront development, because the parties involved on both sides are representative of both partners to the Treaty of Waitangi.  The treaty is regarded as this country’s founding document, so it is part of our democracy.

Macpherson may have put the word in the presentation to catch the attention of councillors and the public, but he couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome than to be banned.

Telling the representative of the RDRR to leave the table only heightened publicity around the topic and may have been ill-advised, as it also cast the mayor and her deputy into the role of thin-skinned bullies. 

Why not use the opportunity to explain the processes involved to clearly illustrate how wrong the RDRR and its supporters are in their stance against the elected councillors and their iwi partners?

Instead, whether they like it or not, the council will face accusations based on an offensive word that will be attributed to them.

The word was in the RDRR presentation.  The Powerpoint presentation was managed by council staff, who must have vetted it.  The presentation may also have been vetted by the council’s extensive public relations staff.  Yet, they let it go ahead including the offensive word, indirectly (or maybe directly) playing a role in the publication of a word that is offensive to the council’s iwi partners and many others in the community.

View the meeting here, with the presentation at about 23 minutes.

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