‘Corrosive obsession with a person’s race’: David Seymour on Māori Wards

9:01 pm on 12 April 2024
ACT Party leader David Seymour said his party opposes Māori Wards.

David Seymour said the ACT Party opposes Māori Wards. Photo: Supplied via LDR

ACT Party leader David Seymour would vote against Māori wards if his home council were to hold a referendum on them.

The party opposed Māori Wards, but Seymour "accepts that, it should be up to local people by referendum to decide if they want them".

"If there was a vote in Auckland where I reside, I'd be voting no."

The government plans to require councils to hold a binding referendum on Māori wards established after March 2021.

During a visit to Tauranga on Thursday, Seymour spoke to Local Democracy Reporting about the issue.

"Our [ACT's] basic view is that human beings are wonderful, filled with different characteristics, particularly their skills and their hopes and dreams, their challenges.

"Yet for some reason there's been a really corrosive obsession in New Zealand with a person's race."

Asked if there was any harm in ensuring Māori were represented on councils, Seymour replied: "New Zealand is made up of people from all walks of life.

"The one thing they've all got in common is either they or their ancestors moved here for a better tomorrow.

"It's not really obvious why some people's background is more important than others.

"I'm not really sure why we take a period of time 200 years ago and decide to privilege some humans over others."

Some of the crowd at a meeting organised by the Concerned Citizens group about Māori wards in Tauranga in 2021.

Some of the crowd at a meeting organised by the Concerned Citizens group about Māori wards in Tauranga in 2021. Photo: SunLive

Māori wards in Tauranga and the Western Bay of Plenty could be affected by the government's new policy.

Tauranga City Council will have a Māori ward for the first time at the upcoming election on 20 July.

The decision was made to establish one in 2020, but this was nearly overturned by a petition from a group called Concerned Citizens.

This was done through a legal loophole where if a petition was signed by at least 5 percent of the local population, they could overturn a council's decision on Māori wards by forcing a binding referendum on the matter.

Local government minister at the time Nanaia Mahuta enabled the Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill, preventing such petitions from affecting future council decisions on Māori wards.

The commission confirmed the previous council's decision on Māori wards at meeting in April 2021.

It was described as a "momentous day" on 17 August, 2023, when the Western Bay of Plenty District Council voted to establish a Māori ward after mana whenua campaigned for over a decade.

Western Bay of Plenty will need to hold a poll on Māori wards at the 2025 election. No action will be needed for Tauranga in the July election, but the council will need to consider it before its next election in 2028.

Local Government New Zealand president Sam Broughton said the decision about Māori wards should be made at a council level.

LGNZ president Sam Broughton said the decision about Māori wards should be made at a council level. Photo: Supplied via LDR

Local Government New Zealand president Sam Broughton labelled the government's decision a "complete overreach".

"The Coalition Government is removing decision-making from councils by mandating polls be run on Māori wards and constituencies alone," Broughton said in a statement.

"We have long asked that Māori wards and constituencies be treated like all other wards and the decisions be made at the council level.

"Currently, councils can make decisions about the establishment of Māori wards and constituencies for themselves. No one is forced, it's a choice by communities' elected representatives.

"Councils make these decisions based on feedback from their communities and iwi representatives."

When announcing the decision, Local Government Minister Simeon Brown said any decision to establish or disestablish a Māori ward should remain with communities.

"This does not affect councils' responsibilities to consult with mana whenua on issues that affect them."

The government would introduce a bill in the coming months requiring councils to hold a referendum alongside the 2025 election. The results would be binding and come into effect at the 2028 local government elections.

Any council not wanting to hold a poll would be given the opportunity to reverse their decision or disestablish Māori wards prior to the 2025 local body elections.

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.

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