Whangārei mayor calls on local electors to support council’s Māori wards decision

9:04 pm on 3 November 2020

Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai is calling on the community to support her council's decision to bring in Māori wards.

Former MP Ian Peters addresses the meeting, speaking against the introduction of the wards.

Former MP Ian Peters addresses the meeting, speaking against the introduction of the wards. Photo: Michael Cunningham / Northern Advocate

"Our decision today will be viewed by people as either democratic or undemocratic, visionary or racist. I see it as giving fair representation to people in our community who have been under-represented since the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi," Mai said.

Whangārei District Council today voted by a 57 percent majority to bring in Māori wards for the 2022 and 2025 local government elections.

"The winds of change are blowing.

"Let's have courage to trim our sails, maximise this strong change in the wind and point our waka toward a united future," Mai said.

The vote in favour of Māori wards is a first for Whangārei District Council. It has previously voted not to bring in these wards.

"This is a watershed day," Mai said after today's special council meeting.

The council must now publicly advertise today's decision, along with notifying its registered electors they have the right to demand a citizen-initiated poll on this. The $90,000 poll has to go ahead if five percent or 3080 electors demand it.

Mai said this legal requirement for this polling was unfair.

She said after the meeting she hoped registered electors in Whangārei would support the council's decision.

This would make the poll unnecessary.

Mai said Māori ward voting was the only council decision that came with this legal polling requirement.

The Local Government Act requires local bodies to review their representation every six years and to acknowledge their Treaty of Waitangi obligations by considering Māori wards. But the Local Electoral Act also allows such a move to be challenged if a poll is demanded by just 5 percent of registered voters. This is not a requirement for general council wards.

Poll results are binding. Polls nationally consistently overturn councils' decisions in favour of Māori wards - all but one of New Zealand's last nine polls have done this. This means the wards cannot be considered for a further six years.

Whangārei District Council councillors today voted 8:6 to bring in Māori wards - after a 1.5 hour debate.

Councillor Ken Couper speaks in favour of Māori wards at today's Whangārei District Council meeting.

Councillor Ken Couper speaks in favour of Māori wards at today's Whangārei District Council meeting. Photo: Michael Cunningham / Northern Advocate

Mai tabled the motion for Māori wards. This was seconded by councillor Carol Peters who voted in in favour along with Deputy Mayor Greg Innes, Gavin Benney, Nick Connop, Ken Couper, Tricia Cutforth and Anna Murphy.

Councillors Vince Cocurullo, Shelley Deeming, Jayne Golightly, Phil Halse, Greg Martin and Simon Reid voted against the wards

The council's decision came after a failed meeting attempt by Cocurullo to instead first have a council-initiated poll, at the 2022 local government elections, to find out what whether voters wanted Māori wards.

Cocurullo's push was supported by Deeming along with Golightly, Halse, Martin and Reid - but lost when the remaining eight councillors voted against it.

Māori electorates have been a feature of national politics for more than 150 years, but at the local level, just three of New Zealand's 78 local authorities have Māori wards: Wairoa District Council and Bay of Plenty and Waikato Regional Councils.

Former National MP Ian Peters JP, told the Whangārei District Council meeting he was against Māori wards.

"My Māori background does not not inhibit or detract," Peters said during the pre-meeting public forum.

"Are Māori not capable of taking their place in democratic local body elections and therefore need to be placed as councillors in some others way?

"Are Māori to be judged not equal? Why are they not contesting for the right to represent their people," he said.

"Do you really believe that a selected person is going to be considered an equal of those who have fought for the right to win?"

Peters said he now had a master's degree, but when contesting the National party seat of Tongariro in 1987 had only two years' secondary schooling. He was selected for the seat from a pool of 10 candidates, winning it three years later against a cabinet minister.

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