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.
Some councils, such as Nelson and Waipā, voted against pursuing a Māori ward because of the prospect of having the decision voted down by the community. Instead, they are seeking a law change to thwart citizens’ right to have a say on whether they support Māori wards. Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese is to write to the Local Government Minister, asking for a change to the 2001 Local Electoral Act to remove this protection of what she calls a “discriminatory piece of legislation”.
Waipā District Council has opted instead to appoint iwi representatives – with voting rights - to each of its four committees, but Mayor Jim Mylchreest is reported as saying he hopes legislation will change to make it easier to introduce Māori wards in the near future.
N.B. Waipā District Council recently budgeted 8%, (i.e. more than $2M), of its shovel-ready projects for iwi engagement.
Bruce Moon, in his opinion piece Democracy in Peril, points out that “There are constitutional issues here in which the public voice has a fundamental right to be heard. The existing poll right with respect to a Maori ward is a constitutional right of all New Zealanders and any attempt to remove it should properly be put to a national referendum”.
“We may ignore these danger signs at our peril or very soon we shall find ourselves accelerating down that slippery slope which already the Government’s fake “partnership” is propelling us until the day comes when the concepts of universal and equal suffrage are but a distant memory”.
Too right, Bruce!
Dominion Post: Māori representation on Wellington council a step closer
The Wanaka Sun: No Māori ward for Queenstown Lakes