Polarising political lobby group to hold public meeting

Protesters are expected at an upcoming public meeting held by a polarising political lobby group whose aim is to drive “race-based” privilege and policies out of government.

Mike McVicker, a former Rotorua district councillor, is on the committee of the Hobson’s Pledge Trust, a group headed by former National Party leader Don Brash, that wants to “arrest a decline into irreversible separatism” by abolishing all laws, regulations and policies that provide for any entitlement based on ancestry or ethnicity.

The trust was set up in September last year and was described by some local leaders at the time as “out of touch” and “racist”.

Its first Rotorua public meeting is being held on Monday at Hennessy’s Function Room from 7pm, with Mr Brash among the speakers.

Hennessy’s Irish Bar owner Reg Hennessy confirmed he had been contacted by a member of the public who said they would be protesting.

Mr Hennessy said he would not put on extra staff, assured both parties would be respectful and not cause trouble.

Mr McVicker said Rotorua was the latest in a string of public meetings the trust had conducted around the country.

“We’ve been promoting equality for all – that’s what it’s really about. Since setting up in September we’ve had significant take up from people nationally.

“The meeting in Rotorua will be particularly applicable given the local example of what we are fighting against, the creation of the Te Tatau o Te Arawa Board.

“That decision split the community at the time and it is still split today. Our other public meetings have been very well received so I would be comfortable if we get 100 to 150 people in Rotorua.”

Mr McVicker said he had no concern at all about the planned protest.

“That’s everyone’s democratic right to protest so as long as they comply with the law, it doesn’t concern me.”

Rotorua Lakes Council cultural ambassador Trevor Maxwell was one of those who criticised the trust when it was set up.

He said New Zealand was a free democratic country so the trust could hold public meetings as they liked, but in his view it was a “deliberately divisive move”.

“There are great things going on in Rotorua; I saw the video of the giant haka and there were Maori and non-Maori all taking part, there were Chinese, English, Indian people proudly wearing silver ferns on their faces – I was so proud.

“That’s what we should be celebrating, not what this group is trying to do.”

Trust spokeswoman Casey Costello said the purpose of the public meetings was to inform people about what the trust stood for and make it okay to have a conversation about difficult topics.

“We are not anti-Maori, we are just really opposed to where we’re heading as a country which is more segregated.

“We are the complete opposite to divisive, we are asking for unity. We want to be able to have an open discussion without people being afraid of being called a racist.”

Ms Costello said she was aware of the planned protest and hoped those protesting would be willing to talk.

“If they feel aggrieved, of course they can protest, I just hope they give me the opportunity to speak and know that I am happy to speak to them one on one. We are not after conflict, we just want people to question whether things like separate wards are really benefiting the general public.”