Māori ward referendum 'an expense we don't need' – Masterton mayor

8:06 pm on 5 April 2024
A hīkoi in Martinborough was held in 2021 to campaign for Māori wards in South Wairarapa.

A hīkoi in Martinborough was held in 2021 to campaign for Māori wards in South Wairarapa. Photo: MARCUS ANSELM / LOCAL DEMOCRACY REPORTING

Masterton's mayor says holding a referendum for an already established Māori ward is an expense "we don't need" for an issue that has already been debated.

Masterton and South Wairarapa District Council will need to hold binding referendums on Māori Wards, following a central government directive.

On Thursday, local government Minister Simeon Brown announced the government would introduce a Bill in the coming months that would "restore the ability for communities to petition their councils to hold binding polls on Māori ward decisions".

"This will include holding binding polls on wards that were established without the ability for local referendums to take place."

Masterton Mayor Gary Caffell said the government demanding a referendum was "an expense we don't need for an issue that has already been debated and agreed at the council table".

"I believe our decision to create a Māori Ward was the right one for our district and has been a positive addition to Masterton District Council and the communities we represent," he said.

"We have certainly had no indication from our community that it is not."

The decision to establish a Māori Ward in Masterton was made mid-2021 and enabled it to go ahead for the 2022 and 2025 elections.

Marama Tuuta was elected unopposed as the first representative in the ward.

Carterton District Council, which voted last year not to establish a Māori ward, would not be impacted by the government change.

South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] voted last year to establish a Māori Ward for the 2025 and 2028 elections.

Brown said affected councils would be required to hold a poll alongside the 2025 elections.

"The results of these polls will be binding on councils and will take effect for the local government term beginning October 2028."

Brown was approached for further comment to confirm the impact this would have on Wairarapa councils.

SWDC said it could not make comment on what this meant for the district until it received official guidance from central government.

The council is currently in the middle of a representation review which must be done at least once every six years.

The first step of the review was deciding whether it would establish a Māori Ward.

Councillors voted 7-3 last year to establish one.

The review must consider the number of elected members, the boundaries and names of each ward, how many wards there are, the number of members that will represent each Ward, and community boards and the number of elected members on them.

Binding referendums are not required to establish any other ward.

Carterton District Council is also in the middle of its representation review.

Masterton's last review was in 2021.

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