Māori wards: East Coast MP backs dumping of 'grossly inadequate provision'

6:44 pm on 2 February 2021

Signatures collected in opposition to Māori wards will have "no effect" following the government's move to dump polling provisions, East Coast MP Kiri Allan says.

Labour MP Kiri Allan, Minister of Conservation and for Emergency Management

East Coast MP Kiri Allan Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

Allan, who previously labelled the provision "discriminatory", said the move to enact legislation under urgency announced yesterday would rectify an "unjust and a significant barrier" to councillors establishing Māori wards.

"We're not trying to impose how local communities run their affairs. All we're doing is removing a grossly inequitable provision that wasn't applicable to any other forms of wards," she said.

"This was just a fundamentally flawed provision that was put in and has manifested in some quite disturbing campaigns I know have impacted a lot of communities..."

It comes as Gisborne councillors say they are "awestruck" while others are not surprised by the central government's move to introduce legislation upholding council decisions on Māori wards.

"If you're to take all of this heightened rhetoric out of the debate, what we're actually trying to do, and what we want to see across the board in decision-making, is adequate voices around the table making decisions for communities that are impacted," Allan said.

Similarly to rural and city wards, Māori wards brought a different perspective and knowledge base to the table, particularly in Gisborne.

"We've got Māori communities who are very centred around their marae, who live up the Coast and in areas that have very particular considerations that are important for us when we're making decisions for the entire Gisborne district."

The Local Electorate Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies Amendment Bill will be introduced in Parliament next week.

All provisions for binding polls on Māori wards would be repealed.

"That means no polls will be held once the legislation is enacted."

Plans to progress the bill under urgency meant it would be enacted by the end of this month, meaning the decisions of nine councils to establish Māori wards for the 2022 local government elections could not be overturned by local voters, she said.

There were tears in the public gallery following Gisborne District councillors' unanimous vote in favour of Māori wards on November 23.

There were tears in the public gallery following Gisborne District councillors' unanimous vote in favour of Māori wards on November 23. Photo: Alice Angeloni/LDR

The current law allows the decision of an elected council to introduce a Māori ward to be overturned by a local poll. Just 5 percent of support is needed for a poll to be demanded.

"There are some people out there who are collecting signatures to overturn those council decisions.

"Any demands for a poll will have no effect once the legislation is enacted."

The new legislation will also extend the deadline for councils to consider Māori wards to 21 May, providing another opportunity to make decisions on Māori representation, she said.

Mayor Rehette Stoltz said Gisborne District Council voted unanimously in favour of establishing Māori wards in November.

"As a group of governors, we have the opportunity to investigate if our current ward system is fit for purpose, and we all see the value in better participation by Māori.

"As work on the bill will be happening in the next few months, we will have more clarity on our responsibilities.

"As this was only announced yesterday, we as a council have not had the opportunity to discuss the process going forward.

"We will have the opportunity with a representation review in this year to look at general ward, rural ward and Māori ward structures to make sure all voices are heard and are represented."

Gisborne deputy mayor Josh Wharehinga, who has been a vocal proponent for Māori wards, said he was "awestruck."

Deputy mayor Josh Wharehinga says he is "awestruck" by the announcement.

Deputy mayor Josh Wharehinga says he is "awestruck" by the announcement. Photo: Alice Angeloni/LDR

"It's great news. It means we don't have to spend ratepayer money on a poll which is forced by largely out-of-region influences.

"We don't have to waste council staff time, councillors' time, our community's time."

He reiterated the change would bring Māori wards to an equitable state with rural wards and city wards.

Councillor Terry Sheldrake, who expressed concerns about Māori wards on voting day but supported the council's unanimous vote, said the government's announcement was expected.

"I think it was always going to go there and it has gone there.

"Why try to push back on the system? The Labour Government has decided where it's going," he said.

"I don't see the majority of our council changing their opinions - accept that and move forward."

Councillor Andy Cranston, who also expressed reservations for Māori wards, said he was "not surprised" by the government's announcement.

Some councillors had had the referendum "in the back of their minds" when voting on Māori wards, believing the probable region-wide vote was "more democratic" and would "steer the decision".

Cranston didn't believe the new legislation would change the council's position.

"If it came back before council, my perception is that there's still the majority of councillors who will vote that way anyway."

The Green Party welcomed the government's position to support the representation of Māori in councils.

"We will support any kaupapa that brings Māori to the decision-making table", said Gisborne-based Green Party spokesperson for Māori development Dr Elizabeth Kerekere.

"This means that in the Tairāhiti the unanimous resolution by Gisborne District Council to form Māori wards will not be overturned by a few racist people.

"In a place that is over 50 percent Māori, it is as much an issue of representation as it is about meeting council's commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

"This is a good step to ensure that Māori are part of any korero regarding our whenua, our awa and our moana. I am excited for the next local body elections."

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