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Ending discrimination against Māori wards

Written By: - Date published: 9:22 am, February 14th, 2021 - 27 comments
Categories: auckland supercity, local body elections, local government, Maori Issues, Maori seats, Nanaia Mahuta, supercity - Tags:

The Māori Affairs select committee is currently hearing submissions on the Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill.  The intent of the bill is to do away with the discriminatory feature of the Local Electoral Act 2001 which allows electors, with enough signatures, to demand a poll relating to the formation of Māori wards.

Hobson’s Choice have relished the opportunity to do so in the past and it seems every time a Council has attempted to make itself more representative petitions are circulated and polls are mandated.

The example from New Plymouth provides a classic example of what happened where “recovering racist” former Mayor Andrew Judd who experienced a road from Damascus type transformation championed the formation of Maori wards but lost the resulting poll.

From Robin Martin at Radio New Zealand:

A former mayor of New Plymouth – who was spat at in the street over his support of establishing a Māori ward in the city – feels vindicated now the government has stepped in to scrap citizen-initiated polls on the divisive issue.

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has announced a bill will be brought to Parliament under urgency to ditch the “discriminatory” polls ahead of the 2022 local body elections.

Andrew Judd was New Plymouth Mayor in 2014 when the council voted to establish a Māori ward.

It was thrown out a year later in a citizens-initiated poll in which 83 percent of those who took part voted it down.

Judd, who describes himself as a recovering racist, didn’t stand for re-election in 2016, saying he didn’t want to be responsible for dividing the community any further.

Ever since he has campaigned to have the Māori wards poll provision removed from the Local Electoral Act.

The provision is frankly racist.  Generally Council election arrangements are determined by Council with a complicated process involving hearings and the opportunity of an appeal to the Local Government Commission.  There is no equivalent opportunity to run a petition and upset the result as there is for the creation of Māori wards.

This has not stopped National from going onto the attack.  In a letter to supporters urging people to make submission Chris Luxon said this:

The purpose of this Bill is to remove all mechanisms for binding polls to be used in determining whether Māori wards (for councils) and Māori constituencies (for regional councils) should be established.

We oppose this Bill because we support local people in local communities making decisions about their local government, not central government running roughshod over Kiwis democratic rights. We’re not opposed to communities establishing Māori Wards, but the people affected by that decision should have a say in it.

And reports from the select committee suggest that Nick Smith has been totally over the top with his criticism and accused supporters of the bill of being trumpian.

This made me reflect on how National handled the setting up of Auckland Super City, that local government entity that represents one in three kiwis.

Because National not only created separate Maori representation for the city but also gave them votes.  And set it out in the super city legislation so that electors could not change this.

In 2011 I wrote this:

Originally there was considerable support for separate Maori representation on the Council. This could have been achieved by setting up two Maori electorates within the city. Electors on the Maori Role could then vote for their preferred candidate.  But the Government refused to have specially designated Maori council seats.

Part way through the process it came up with the idea, apparently against Rodney Hide’s advice, that there be a Maori Advisory Committee, the sort that would meet and talk and recommend and then, depending on the political makeup of the Council, have its recommendations either supported or ignored. It was to have the power to appoint observers to some Auckland Council committees.

But well after the passing of the Act something extraordinary became public, the appointees of the Maori Advisory Committee have a vote.

I thought initially that it must be a mistake, but after considering the Select Committee report it is clear that the Government intended the result.

The Select Committee report recommended the following proposed amendment to the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009:

70 Board’ s specific functions

(1) The board must appoint a maximum of 2 persons to sit as members on each of the Auckland Council’ s committees that deal with the management and stewardship of natural and physical resources.

Note that the words “as members” were inserted. The rationale for this in the accompanying notes was that “[a]s introduced new section 70(1) is not sufficiently clear as to the role of board members on Auckland Council committees.” Obviously the addition of “as members” was intended to clarify their powers.  The decision to give these unelected members a vote appears to have been a deliberate one by the Government.

Pita Sharples should take a bow for getting this through.  I had misgivings at the time because members were appointed rather than elected by Maori roll electors but having worked with them for the past decade I am very happy to acknowledge their commitment and skills and the mana they bring to meetings and discussions.

Is the change being rushed?  Government advice is that the law change has to be passed by March 2021 to be effective for the 2022 election.

Apart from the discriminatory nature of the current law there are also Treaty considerations to be taken into account.  Maori still retain tino rangatiratanga over their taonga.  Making sure they have representation at a Local Government level is an important adjunct to this.

The provision will only enrich our local representation.  In my first local government campaign we enjoyed overwhelming success with over 90% of our candidates succeeding.  But the ones that missed out were Maori and Pasifeka.  Things are improving, but only slowly.

And Te Ao Maori has such a rich, vibrant quality that is central to our proper understanding of our country.  Having it as part of discussions only improves decision making.

All that I can say is good on Nanaia Mahuta for doing this.  The sooner it is achieved the better.

27 comments on “Ending discrimination against Māori wards ”

  1. DukeEll 1

    Absolutely. Then maybe we can address Maori tamariki poverty at a regional level. As this government certainly is doing little about it nationally.
    first should be northland. It makes me cry watching the hardship the whanau unit experiences throughout northland with only hapu and iwi to rely on while Aucklanders push house prices up on a weekender. The equity gain on the average auckland house since 2017 will purchase outright a house near dargaville or kaitaia

  2. shanreagh 2

    I support this.

    My way of looking at these types of advances is to remember the wise words of a colleague when we both worked in LINZ (Charlie Tawhiao now Chair of the Runanga Ngai te Rangi Iwi.) I have always had a very pro-Maori outlook but this simple phrase encapsulated it for me.

    "What is good for Maori is good for NZ"

    So giving representation to Maori is not only good for Maori but to all the rest of us. The more all our citizens are able to participate in the structures of our local government then the better decisions will result.

    Maori are over-represented in many of the 'bad' statistics and giving a boost to lead Maori out of this will benefit all of us.

    • shanreagh 2.1

      The beauty of Charlie's words are also that we can be guided by Maori as to what they feel will be successful, from a Maori point of view, to improve the situation of Maori.

      That is not to say that the rest of us are not able to have an opinion but on the point of whether it will improve the lot of Maori then Maori will know best.

  3. KSaysHi 3

    Good to hear this is being done. I'm over hearing the dripping snarls of racist comments and it's time to bring the entire wards thing back in balance.

  4. Patricia Bremner 4

    Once again Nania Mahuta shows her class. Representing Aotearoa New Zealand, challenging racism and cleaning up water standards and infrastructure. We are fortunate in her effective achievements.

  5. Incognito 5

    An interesting counter-view appeared in the Feeds section a couple of hours ago: https://democracyproject.nz/2021/02/15/graham-adams-nanaia-mahuta-and-the-maori-wards

    • solkta 5.1

      The most interesting thing about that rant is that it is written as if there were no Treaty.

      • Incognito 5.1.1

        A “rant”, not a critical appraisal or perhaps just a critical piece? I thought it had a little more substance to it but am happy to write it off as a “rant”, if you say so. IMHO, a useful debate would be on a consistent framework for local and central decision making that has the ToW as one of its cornerstones, which does not mean it would or should trump over-rule everything. Arguing for the latter would simply stoke the populist fire led from RH corners. At some point, which might not be that far in the future, we will have a change of Government again. Think about it.

        • solkta

          If it were a "critical appraisal" it would discuss the actual issues involved. But rather it just runs with the idea that a majority should be able to override the rights of a minority. Democracy is a more complex thing than that.

        • shanreagh

          Where has he, Graham Adams, got the idea that everything the Government does, any Government, has to have been campaigned on during an election? What balderdash.

          Government's have big campaign manifestos, or not.

          Governments are elected to govern and we, and they, cannot anticipate what may arise.

          If these changes have time to bed in and the electorate finds that they are not the big bogeyman being portrayed in RW circles then an incoming change of Government may find it difficult to make a change. Perhaps it is a skilful move to put this through early in the term of govt.

          Many Govt depts have had experience with the ToW suffusing their work and have had since the momentous court decisions of the late 1980s involving the NZ Maori Council. (One of the few positives to come out of the neo-liberalism of that era)

          • Incognito

            Interesting point. I agree that Parties cannot campaign on everything, and the latest Election was dominated by a single issue. However, this is not something that came out of the blue for this Government and it should not ‘ambush’ the people with ideas and proposals out of left field [intentional pun]. Maybe it was indeed deliberate to avoid attention of the Opposition but that would be profoundly undemocratic, IMO. All Laws and Law changes should be thoroughly tested and debated by our representatives. Unfortunately, the current Opposition is a pathetic shambles which does not improve decision-making by Government.

  6. Patricia Bremner 6

    The early (2002) legislation was meant to assist Maori to get local representation, through taking the "heat" out of the issue.

    There are a handful of reticent Councils which wish to exclude any but their own world view.

    The tone of Adam's writing is anti imo, and he seems to think law should be set in concrete, and his anxiety about National and Act is probably fairly based, though they had none of these concerns about fairness when they formed Cera.

    So their arguments are full of self serving ………… (any derogatory term will do!) and do not recognise partnership.

    • Incognito 6.1

      Of course, Adams is anti, but I thought he raised a few points that could lead to interesting debate here. I was wrong.

      • shanreagh 6.1.1

        Yes it was interesting from the point of view that someone in academia could write such an article that omitted reference to the Treaty of Waitangi. Had he been able to express his concerns with this as a background I would have given it more than a passing glance.

        Since 2002 there has clearly been the expectation that local authorities will want to be able to move to give Maori representation. So almost 20 years.

        I agree it would be good to have speeded up Select Cttee hearings but the usual lengthy process will have allowed Opposition parties to muster all their vitriol and As KsaysHi

        I'm over hearing the dripping snarls of racist comments and it's time to bring the entire wards thing back in balance.

        • solkta

          The guy is not an academic. The link describes him as:

          Graham Adams is a journalist, columnist and reviewer who has written for many of the country’s media outlets including Metro, North & South, Noted, The Spinoff and Newsroom

          • shanreagh

            Cheers the page I was looking at came under the imprimatur of Victoria Uni. Not sure if that makes it worse, the reading of his occupation makes it worse. From journos ie professional writers I expect better. Good research skills are part & parcel for these sorts of writers…perhaps not so much for fiction writers though we can all 'marvel' at an anachronism popping up in a period novel.

            • solkta

              Yes i assumed he was an academic at first so looked to see what discipline could be so lacking in discipline. It is beyond me why a university would want to publish the same pap that is available via the MSM?

          • Pat

            Does the fact (if it is) he is not an academic make his opinion invalid?

            • solkta

              I was responding to shanreagh saying:

              Yes it was interesting from the point of view that someone in academia could write such an article that omitted reference to the Treaty of Waitangi.

              The point was that one would expect an academic to be more academic – that they would have the discipline to have researched the issue fully and ethics to share that knowledge in its entirety.

              However, it is not the fact that he is not an academic that makes contribution irrelevant but that he hasn't engaged with the actual issue.

              And no he is not an academic, read my quote from the linked page.

              • Pat

                The question remains…is his opinion invalid because he " is a journalist, columnist and reviewer"

                Or do we only accept opinions from 'academics' (those academics whom we agree with, but not the ones we dont)

        • Incognito

          Submissions must be in by 5pm Thursday 11 February – just two days after the bill passed its first reading.


          The Select Committee of eight has only two members of the National Party, none of ACT, and one of the Māori Party.


  7. Incognito 7

    Another interesting Opinion piece by Gavin Beattie, a former Department of Internal Affairs policy adviser, and adviser to the Local Government Commission. He led the policy development for the Local Electoral Act (2001), which included provisions for the establishment of Māori wards.


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