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.
NELSON CITY COUNCIL
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.
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.
NAPIER CITY COUNCIL
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.
BILL SEEKS TO ENTRENCH NGĀI TAHU REPRESENTATION FOR ECAN
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'