Face to face with Andrew Judd, recovering racist

by Joanna Wane / 05 February, 2017
Photography by Glenn Jeffrey.
An image taken for Andrew Judd’s official mayoral portrait.

Former New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd was ostracised, vilified, spat on and called a “nigger lover” for wanting to give Maori a voice on council. With Waitangi Day approaching, Joanna Wane asks what made people so angry.

When Andrew Judd speaks somewhere – to a Rotary Club, a church group or at a union meeting – here’s how he likes to break the ice. “Someone once said to me that Maoris are lazy,” he’ll say. “They fill our jails, they can’t manage money or land, they just want handouts.

“They’re tribal and savage by nature, their language is dead. Maoris are lucky they got saved by the English. They need to move on from the past. Settlements are one long gravy train for the Maori elite. We’re all one now, in any case.”

Then he’ll pause for a moment. “Do you know who said this to me? I said this to me. My name is Andrew Judd, and I’m a recovering racist…”

That makes one hell of a punchline, and the reaction it provokes is telling. “It’s interesting to watch some of the people in the audience when I’m saying all that rubbish,” he says. “You get a few head-nodders in the crowd. Then when I say I’m a recovering racist, their eyes go to the floor.”

Judd – sitting councillor, father of two, regular churchgoer and local optician with a practice in the centre of town – took the New Plymouth mayoralty in a landslide victory at the polls in 2013. By the next elections, late last year, he’d been hounded out in a cloud of controversy, standing down after a single term in office.

Not that he saw it as a fall from grace; more of an epiphany, really. So did the 10,000 people who joined the Andrew Judd Fan Club on Facebook, after he was branded a bigot, a separatist, a PC nutter and a “nigger lover” for backing the establishment of a Maori ward seat – an option already available to councils under the Local Electoral Act. When the proposal was voted through by a narrow majority, two councillors resigned in protest. And in a public referendum (required by law), the proposal was resoundingly rejected with a “no” vote of 83 per cent.

The furore that the issue whipped up in the community, and the vitriol directed personally at Judd, seemed wildly out of proportion to the cause of offence. People crossed the street to avoid him, customers withdrew their records from his practice, and he was attacked in the supermarket in front of his children. “Goodbye you racist idiot,” someone wrote to the council. “And take your separatist bs with you.”

Judd, who’d never been on a marae before he was elected mayor, and had sided with then-National Party leader Don Brash during his 2006 “Iwi/Kiwi” campaign, recognised an ugliness and ignorance that once would have reflected his own.

As a kid growing up in Masterton, he lived in a white, working-class world (his mother, whose family had emigrated from Guernsey after the Channel Islands were occupied by German forces during World War II, remembers being told Maori were savages because they had a missing gene). It was only in his first year as mayor, when he met Te Atiawa iwi involved in their settlement process, that he began to view New Zealand’s history from a different perspective.

“I used to say, ‘Life’s hard for me, too; there’s no Department of Andrew Judd Affairs.’ If I saw the Maori flag, I’d feel rage! I recognise that now, when I get approached or challenged or abused by people. I see their reactions, their words, their tone, their anger. And what they’re saying to me is what I used to say to myself and to others, in the safety of a European environment.

“Why do we go to those emotions so quickly, that fear and defensiveness, when it comes to things Maori? At some deep level, I think it’s because we know something is wrong.”

Taking land was bad enough, he told the website E-Tangata in an interview last May, but taking away a person’s ability to identify with who they are is just plain wrong. As New Zealanders, we roll out Maori culture to the world when it suits us but don’t truly embrace it, says Judd, whose wife Trudi is a nurse.

“As Pakeha, we’re broken. We never look at ourselves, but we blame and point at Maori. Now, of course, I’ve realised you’re blind to your own privilege when the system is for you. Since I’ve disengaged from that, it’s like a Matrix movie to me; it’s all I can see.”

Today, he’s back at his optician practice, but the phone is still running hot, whether it’s a request to sit on a law panel at Waikato University, speak on a marae or advise on policy for the Anglican Church. He plans to write about his experience (in March, he’ll be a “Talking Book” at Womad) and is backing a petition to Parliament to remove the legal requirement for “race-based” Maori wards to be decided by public referendum – a condition not placed on rural wards, for example.

In his final week as mayor, an online poll asked what Judd would be best remembered for. Based on the results so far, it won’t be for letting kids take selfies wearing the mayoral chains (currently on three per cent), or for bombing the Aquatic Centre pool in his suit and tie (four per cent) – despite the spectacular slow-motion video.

It won’t be for winning $10,000 worth of petrol for the district in a radio competition by singing a “wacky” tune off the cuff about why Taranaki is such a great place to visit, thanks to his background in amateur dramatics (five per cent) or for delivering on his campaign promises (nine per cent).

And it won’t be for bringing Jetstar and a Royal visit to New Plymouth, opening the Len Lye Centre, creating a 30-year strategic blueprint for the district, successfully selling off the council’s albatross Tasmanian farms investments, or saving $20 million over the next 10 years by restructuring the council. In fact, none of those made the shortlist.

In an irony that’s not lost on Judd, his legacy – by popular vote – will be his “courageous leadership” (38 per cent) and outing himself as a racist on national television (41 per cent) when he was interviewed at the height of the controversy by Mike Hosking on Seven Sharp.

Judd is welcomed onto Parihaka by kuia Whero o te Rangi Bailey, who died in December, at the age of 80.

North & South: Did you have any idea what you were letting yourself in for on election night?

Andrew Judd: I came in with such a majority, I thought maybe I could do two or three terms – that was a massive mandate I’d got. My slogan was about bringing honesty back to local government. That analogy was based on financial spending, more than anything else. Talk about being tested, I didn’t see this coming at all.

N&S: You’ve spoken about becoming such a pariah at council meetings that you got used to drinking cups of tea on your own. But a majority voted with you in favour of a Maori ward?

AJ: It was like everyone agreeing to go over the top and I said “Charge!” and then looked around and I was out there on my own. I was disappointed and sad they never found the strength to follow. But that just proves how broken we actually are. And I can’t judge others because that’s where I’ve come from. It was the same with Mike Hosking: I saw myself in him.

N&S: He described you as being “completely out of touch with middle New Zealand” and says there’s nothing to stop Maori standing for council. Is he right?

AJ: It’s so simplistic to say that, when we have the comfort of being in the majority. I say to people, I don’t know what’s in your heart, but I know what was in mine. If I was really honest with myself, even a surname that sounded Maori subconsciously turned me off.

People like Mike Hosking blame me for coming up with the idea of Maori wards, but it was already there, in the legislation. I assume he’s educated. He must be; he’s the voice of an influencing broadcaster. How can he not ask himself the questions I’ve asked of myself?

N&S: We all tend to view life through our own lens, whether it’s race, religion, politics or gender.

AJ: I’ve used parallels like that. Someone said to me – a Maori person – “I don’t know what’s wrong with the world, all these radical Maoris. We weren’t like that in my day.” And the woman sitting beside her said, “Mum, in your day your place was in the kitchen.”

N&S: Was there a particular moment that crystallised it for you?

AJ: My first visit onto a marae, for Sir Maui Pomare Day [in 2014]. As a young lad, he was present when the soldiers marched onto Parihaka, and he went on to be the first Maori doctor and an MP. On the marae, when the drums played to signify the arrival of the troops from a distance to sack Parihaka, what hit me was that some of the iwi leaders I’d got to know were crying. I realised that no matter how right I think I am, it’s different for Maori. Their world view of New Zealand is different from mine. It just rushed into me as the truth as I saw it, that I’d been so wrong.

N&S: Last year, you copped some flak over the 175th anniversary of the arrival of the first settler ships in New Plymouth.

AJ: On the 150th anniversary, the council gave $100,000, held some 600 community events, and a community ball. So, I was asked what we were going to do for 175. And I said, well, I don’t want to do anything, actually, because 20-odd years after the arrival of those settler ships, we were killing each other in Waitara. If we’re going to acknowledge our history, let’s acknowledge our full history.

Of course, one of my councillors broke ranks and wrote to the paper, saying “Andrew needs to learn to move on, that’s past history” – meaning the Land Wars. But the ships arrived first, so if the Land Wars are ancient history, so is the arrival of the ships. Based on that argument, in another few years instead of commemorating Anzac Day, that’ll be ancient history, too.

N&S: Was it seen as a cop-out not standing for re-election?

AJ: I’ve had people say, “You gutted out on us” and that’s hard to stomach. But it wasn’t because of the grief it caused me. It was just so divisive. And it would have been used [by his opponents] – having my name on the ticket. That doesn’t bring us together, it draws a line in the sand and you have to be on one side or the other. Nobody wins from that. Imagine if you were a young, impressionable New Zealander – particularly a young, impressionable Maori – hearing all that hate rhetoric towards me.

N&S: What do you mean by New Zealanders being “polite racists”?

AJ: It’s almost in our DNA. Most of us would never have had a proper family conversation about race and racism. As a country, we don’t either. What we do is deflect. As soon as you get close to the nerve, we say “At least we’re not like Australia.” Our racism has manners and I think that’s worse, because it gives us permission not to look at ourselves.

We hold up the Treaty as the panacea, yet we disregard it. I was having dinner with senior staff from the Australian consulate on Anzac Day, and they asked me what I thought about Australia having a treaty with the Aboriginals. Do it, I said, but let it be authentic, not a tokenistic piece of paper. What you say is what you do. Maoridom has only ever held us to what we agreed to. Nothing more, nothing less. Our Treaty obligation requires Maori to be at the table – and we can’t do that if Maori aren’t there. That’s all I’m saying.

N&S: Groups like Don Brash’s Hobson’s Pledge talk about New Zealand being a multicultural society now, not a bicultural one.

AJ: That’s a bit like playing hopscotch – you can leap over a few inconvenient things. For Maori, there are only two people here: Maori and other. And I know that’s confronting to a lot of us. But part of what I’ve had to come to terms with and respect is that’s how Maori view it.

N&S: You see your role as speaking Pakeha to Pakeha – what’s your message for Waitangi Day?

AJ: Challenge the thoughts that have been planted in you, all the myths presented as facts – truly challenge them. Get onto a marae and look into the eyes of Maori. It wasn’t reading a book that changed me, but seeing and speaking to real people in their environment.

I’m not trying to be a Maori, because I’m not one. But we have to stop this cycle of ignorance. We haven’t confronted our past as Pakeha. I feel lied to and robbed of that knowledge, because I wasn’t told it at school. It’s not about blame, because that’s history. It’s about finding a way to move forward. But it will be a generational shift and it will take time.

N&S: Is that starting to happen now?

AJ: My son is at high school and didn’t even know about Parihaka until last year. So it’s still a challenge. I hope my children’s children can speak te reo and have an understanding of the Maori world, because that’s truly how you become that elusive “one”, isn’t it? Having a commemoration of the Land Wars is a good start. Even in America, they acknowledge their civil war sites. We sweep it under the carpet and ignore it – build a road over the site!

N&S: You’re a paid-up member of the Maori Party. Any plans to throw your hat in the ring?

AJ: I haven’t given full thought around what’s next for me, politically. I’m only 51. I’ve got another 20-odd years before I even catch Winston... For now, I’d like to work in communities and share my story. Vincent O’Malley [author of a new history of the Waikato War] wants to do a tour here. I’ll carry on – just not in the box office as mayor.

This was published in the February 2017 issue of North & South.

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