< September 2021 newsletter

Do your Council’s representation arrangements fail the equal rights test?

Councils owe a duty of fair representation to all the citizens they represent, yet this fundamental principle of democratic governance is being ignored by councils as they build “Treaty partnerships” with their Māori citizens. This is very apparent at Rotorua Lakes Council, where undemocratic arrangements have been introduced to “strengthen the voice of Māori in our decision making”. 

Te Arawa, the predominant iwi in the Rotorua area, has a great deal of influence over council decision making through the Te Arawa Partnership Agreement and Te Tatau o Te Arawa, an organisation representing iwi which works in partnership with the Council. It is more than an advisory board - it is seen by some as an expression of tino rangatiratanga and is regarded as such by the Council.

An illustration of how much power Te Arawa wields can be seen in the establishment of a co-governance committee tasked with providing recommendations to Council on the Three Waters Reforms. This committee comprises of the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and three Councillors (all Te Arawa affiliated), and five Te Arawa leaders. The Mayor and a Te Arawa representative to co-chair the committee.

Reynold Macpherson, one of the few Rotorua councillors willing to stand up to defend democratic principles, writes in his commentary Rotorua’s Gerrymander for the 2022 Local Elections: “Mayor Steve Chadwick and at least four current Councilors are affiliated with Te Arawa and are supportive of Te Arawa's Vision 2050, which includes a vision of co-governance with the Rotorua Lakes Council. Several other Councilors are at least sympathetic towards Te Arawa's aspirations for co-governance and have recently voted accordingly. With a Te Arawa-affiliated Mayor or just one more Te Arawa-friendly Councilor, Te Arawa would have full control of Council and right-of-veto over any issue”.

Currently the Rotorua Lakes Council, as well as several other councils around the country, is undertaking a representation review, which councils are required to do at least once every six years, or if a council decides to establish a Māori ward/s. A representation review addresses the total number of councillors there should be for the district or region and the way they are elected. A review also covers the boundaries of wards and constituencies. For more details see Local Government Commission Representation Reviews. 

Rotorua Lakes Council, as well as Nelson City Council and possibly others, appear to be taking the opportunity during their reviews to consider ways to further create political advantages for those on the Māori roll. Rotorua councillor Reynold Macpherson believes that Rotorua Lake Council’s initial proposal for public consultation is overly biased towards co-governance at potential cost to democratic values. The representation arrangement proposes a mixed model membership structure with 10 councillor seats and 1 Mayor. The proposed structure includes:

• 1 Mayor elected at large

• 1 Māori Ward with 2 seats

• 1 General Ward with 4 seats

• 4 “at large” seats


Under this model, those enrolled on the General Electoral Roll can vote for four ward members, and those enrolled on the Māori Electoral Roll vote for two ward members. Those enrolled on the General and Māori Electoral rolls can vote for the Mayor and four members ‘At Large’. To read more about this proposal see the Council’s website HERE.

Democratic principles and equal suffrage be damned! 

Cr Macpherson points out that the proposed option doubles the voting power of those on the Māori Electoral Population, (which constitutes 28% of the total electoral population), to six votes while only increasing the voting power of General voters by one seventh to eight votes. “This appears to be a creative way of giving Māori voters disproportionate voting power which will be fundamentally undemocratic” he writes in his commentary Are the Mayor and Councilors trying to Rig the Election? 

Another option the council considered consists of two wards: a General ward with seven elected members and a Māori ward with three elected members. Those enrolled on the General Electoral Roll vote for seven General ward members and those enrolled on the Māori Electoral Roll vote for three Māori ward members. Everyone would get one vote for Mayor.

This option meets democratic criteria, such as providing equal suffrage, because each vote has equal value. BUT this option is not being put forward for public consultation - thereby signifying that the council is seeking a predetermined outcome, as indicated by Cr Macpherson.

Have your say 

Public consultation on Rotorua’s proposed model runs from 8 September to 8 October. Public hearings will be heard from 11 November. You can see further information and provide your feedback online at the council website HERE.

Media coverage

Rotorua Daily Post: Rotorua councillor Reynold Macpherson claims 'gerrymandering' in representation review debate


Nelson another local body which is proposing an arrangement to accommodate Māori wards which fails the equal suffrage test. There is a marked disparity in the proportion of residents per councillor in each ward. This is illustrated in the diagram below.


See: https://shape.nelson.govt.nz/representation-review

To be regarded as acceptable, the population per councillor in each ward must deviate less than 10 per cent from the average population per councillor.

Public consultation on the Nelson Council’s representation proposal is open, closing on 17 September.


Meanwhile, Napier is still considering introducing Māori wards - making the decision whether to do so in November. They are currently seeking feedback from their citizens. See the Council website page ‘Māori Wards’ HERE. Submissions close on Friday 10 September.


The Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill is awaiting its second attempt at going through the legislative process, after previously being voted down on its first reading in 2019.

Should it be passed, the Bill will empower Te Rūnganga o Ngāi Tahu to appoint up to two members to the Canterbury Regional Council which is known as Environment Canterbury. 

This Bill has been slammed as undemocratic by Waimate District Councillor Tom O'Connor. “These are not Māori wards, which are open to anyone on the Māori electoral roll,” O’Connor said. “These are one subset of an iwi having power, not by vote – but by appointment. It’s outrageously undemocratic”. See Stuff report: Ngāi Tahu representation bill slammed as 'undemocratic'

Go back to the September 2021 newsletter


Future for Local Government Review signals Treaty-based local governance

Local government is facing a wave of radical changes - such as the overhaul of the three waters sector and the resource management system - that will significantly affect their traditional roles and functions.  Continue reading

Government plans to seize ratepayers’ assets - without compensation

Local Government Minister Hon Nanaia Mahuta has announced further details of the Government's regulatory and structural reform of water service delivery in New Zealand. The plan is for an unprecedented transfer of billions of dollars of ratepayer-funded assets from local bodies to four entities. Continue reading

Local Government update

Government plans a local government system that actively embodies the Treaty partnership. On 23 April 2021 the Minister of Local Government established a review into the future for Local Government:  “The overall purpose of the Review is, as a result of the cumulative changes being progressed as part of the Government’s reform agenda, to identify how our system of local democracy and governance needs to evolve over the next 30 years, to improve the wellbeing of New Zealand communities and the environment, and actively embody the Treaty partnership”. Continue reading

Tauranga citizens to be further disenfranchised

The anti-democratic madness continues apace in Tauranga. Following the Government-appointed Commissioners recent decision to establish a Māori ward, they have also agreed to a new committee – the Strategy, Finance and Risk Committee - which embodies the 'Treaty partnership', but goes further than that, effectively shutting out the wider community. Continue reading

Māori wards update - May

Even though time and time again referenda have shown that most New Zealanders are opposed to race-based voting systems, 24 local authorities have recently either made the decision to proceed with Māori wards or have indicated an intention to do so. In addition to those mentioned in the April edition of the Democracy Action newsletter, the following have voted to proceed down this path: Continue reading

The cost to ratepayers of implementing the partnership principle

Photo: Penny Smart, Chair of Northland Regional Council The partnership-with-iwi provisions are creating significant cost pressures for councils. This includes large and on-going costs associated with implementing and maintaining the variety of ways Iwi/Māori are involved in local government and contribute to council decision making. Continue reading

Further Councils Considering Establishing Māori Wards

Councils: Waipa, Hawke’s Bay, Horizons, Horowhenua, Hamilton As mentioned in last month’s newsletter, the new Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Act 2021 extended the deadline for councils to consider Māori wards for the 2022 triennial local government elections to 21 May 2021. This has brought forward a flurry of proposals and votes.  Continue reading

Government legislates away a democratic right

“Labour will ensure that major decisions about local democracy involve full participation of the local population from the outset.”  So pledged the Labour Party during the 2020 election campaign. Just four months later they have broken this promise in spectacular fashion, passing under urgency the Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Act - thereby abolishing the right of local communities to petition for a referendum on Maori wards or constituencies. Continue reading

Step by step, the undermining of democracy continues……….

Maori wards are not the only avenue for separate local government representation for Māori. Continue reading

No respect for democracy - Government to muzzle citizens

In a shock announcement, the Government reveals it intends to use the extraordinary powers reserved for use when the nation is under threat to get rid of legislation that enables referenda on Māori wards. Continue reading

We want a vote on Māori wards!

The Local Electoral Act’s binding poll system is a form of direct democracy that enables local electors to choose for themselves by simple majority vote whether or not they support race-based council representation. However, to trigger a poll 5 percent of electors must support a petition to hold the referendum. Campaigns to do so have already started in several regions. Please offer your support and encouragement to those who are standing up for the right to have a say on whether we support designated race-based seats at the council table. Continue reading

Mayors seek law change to thwart citizens’ right to have a say on Māori wards

Every six years local bodies are obliged to review the ward system. We have seen a flurry of such activity over the past few months, with both New Plymouth and Tauranga acting to establish Māori wards, and others considering whether to follow suit.  Continue reading

More councils adopt racially-selected appointees

Despite constituents strongly opposing separate race-based representation, as shown in referenda held in 2018, the number of councils across New Zealand which have appointed unelected members with voting rights to council committees has grown exponentially over the last couple of years. The following are examples (by no means the total number) of councils who have recently taken the obligation to consult with Māori to an undemocratic level: Continue reading

Yahoo! A double win for democracy

We end the year with the welcome news that the bill making it harder to remove the Māori seats from Parliament has been voted down at the second reading, with New Zealand First opposing the change. Only Labour and the Green Party supported the legislation. The bill cleared its first hurdle in Parliament last year with the unlikely support of New Zealand First, which opposes the Māori seats. The party wanted to use the bill as a vehicle to hold a two-part referendum on the seats, asking whether they should be entrenched or done away with altogether. But no referendum was added after the select committee stage. Continue reading

Local Body Elections 2019

The Democracy Action working group is preparing a set of questions to ask candidates. Please take the opportunity to call radio shows with guest candidates, and attend public meetings, to ask a question or two. Continue reading

The undermining of our democracy continues apace

Please see below some examples from around the country: Earlier this year the Minister of Conservation signed a partnership agreement between the ministry, DOC and Auckland iwi Ngai Tai ki Tamaki, to share in the management of natural resources, and cultural and historical heritage. Ngai Tai ki Tamaki’s role is that of guardians and stewards. They are seeking to establish an ‘iwi conservancy’ over land and taonga species. They are based at Umupuia, just south of Maraetai, on the shores of the Hauraki Gulf. Yet they claim an area of interest, and therefore influence, that stretches from north of Auckland, down to Tauranga, including the whole of the Coromandel Peninsula; much of the Manukau Harbour in the west, and out past Gt. Barrier Island in the east, as shown below. Continue reading

‘Partnership’ - a way of heading off costly litigation?

Last month we reported on the Horizons Regional Council vote to create a committee of councillors and iwi leaders to come up with strategies for managing Manawatū waterways. Continue reading

Auckland Plan 2050 Adopted – With The Anti-Democratic Provisions

The Auckland Plan 2050, the long-term strategy for Auckland’s growth and development, and which provides a framework to inform decisions, has been adopted by Auckland Council. Continue reading

Implementation of Treaty settlements creating significant cost pressures

The Waikato Regional Council’s draft submission to the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into Local Government Funding and Financing reveals that the implementation of Treaty of Waitangi settlements creates significant cost pressures for Council. The submission states that “the Council wishes to work with its iwi partners in partnership but notes that the costs to do so is significant to its ratepayers”. Continue reading

Hastings District Council joins the Hall of Shame

A big thank you to those who contacted Hasting District councillors to encourage them to vote against the proposal to enable four members of the Maori Joint Committee to sit and vote on the council’s four standing committees. Unfortunately, enough councillors (10-4) felt able to turn their back on democracy by appointing unelected Maori to all committees.  Continue reading

Good News - designated seats for Ngāi Tahu voted down

New Zealand First has scuppered Labour's bid to give Ngāi Tahu permanent seats on the Canterbury Regional Council, saying its special treatment for Māori. Shane Jones acknowledged the party's long-held position against separate seats for Māori on local body councils. Continue reading

Auckland Council’s ‘Our Water Future’ - Remember to have your say

Auckland Council recently released a discussion document on developing ‘a water strategy to ensure a secure, sustainable, and healthy future for water in Auckland’. We covered this issue in the March update, but to briefly recap, as to the advancement of a co-governance agenda, concerns centre on the following statements: Continue reading

The Waikato District Council Blueprint Project

It appears every act of special entitlement is simply used as a stepping stone to further power. We see an example of this in the Waikato District Council’s Blueprint project, with its pitch to build on the Joint Management Agreements and other agreements with iwi, and the proposal to appoint a ‘Maori Partnership Manager’ “to sit with the CE group, which will, appropriately, facilitate a “chief to chief” relationship” – with the assistance of an operational support person. There are only a few days left to have provide feedback. Go online to have your say by 5pm Monday 8 April. Continue reading