SunLive         

On a personal basis, the answer to that question is pretty easy for me – The Local Government Act in section 14 states when making a decision, a local authority should take account of – “the diversity of the community”, and “A local authority should provide opportunities for Maori to contribute to its decision-making processes.”

Back in 2012 when I was a councillor on our council it was decided on the Mayor’s casting vote not to propose a Maori Ward. However, in the intervening 6 years, the political, social, demographic and economic landscape has changed to the point where there is now a rational, compelling, defendable argument to support the implementation of a Maori Ward for our council.

In the past our council has had 2 Maori Committees where Maoridom has appointed their representatives to those committees and many have been critical that those people were appointed and not elected.

Those committees are designated to have a representative of every Iwi and Hapu in our district, which in the worst case scenario, with 11 Iwi and 74 Hapu representatives plus 11 Councillors and the Mayor would make a committee of 97 – would be a nightmare to manage.

From my own perspective, having 1 elected Maori Ward Member sitting alongside 10 Geographic Ward Members with an elected Mayor is a far more efficient and effective Governance Structure for our council.

Many say this subject is about Democracy, I say they are wrong, it is about fair representation for our district.

Others say the decision was “made in secret”, again I say they are wrong as there is a legal requirement to take our final proposal out for public consultation which will occur in 2019.

The Local Electoral Act requires Councils to consider Maori Wards as a component of their representation arrangements when undertaking their 6 yearly Representation Review.

We currently have 11 councillors representing 3 geographic wards and our total population is about 48,000, giving our current ratio of 1 councillor for every 4300 residents. We have a Maori population of about 4900 and if we did have a Maori ward the ratio for that councillor would be slightly higher than the geographic ward councillor representing. The net result being there would be 10 Geographic Ward Councillors and 1 Maori Ward Councillor each with a similar workload.

In 2017, the National Party Government amended the Resource Management Act to require councils to create “Mana Whakahono a Rohe agreements” with Iwi and if necessary with Hapu.

Whilst there is a legal obligation to consider Maori Wards, from a personal point of view, for me it is the right thing to do for fair and equitable representation.

Another option we could have considered was to use our Zoning as the basis for wards and that would have given us 4 Urban Wards, 3 Rural Wards, 3 Horticultural Wards and 1 Lifestyle Ward. Had we taken that approach there would NOT have been a poll because a poll is ONLY required if a Maori Ward is being proposed.

All councillors and tangata whenua members of the forum always knew the decision would go to a poll i.e. under the process, anyone has the right to demand it, and because they knew not every councillor would agree with the decision if it were to recommend a Maori Ward.

However, I must state that at the Committee stage, which was a public meeting where anyone could attend, which included the Mayor and 10 of the 11 councillors and all Tangata Whenua members it was unanimously approved to recommend to council to propose a Maori Ward.

When it did go to council the majority of Council (75%)- those who supported Maori representation – have respected due process and allowed that to happen without leaping into debates or impinging on the rights of others to have their say and now the poll is in front of the community it is important for Council leaders to separate the rhetoric that’s being ‘pushed around’ from the reality.

Gary Webber
WBOP District Council Mayor