26 May 2009

Threat of more protests over super-city plan

6:00 am on 26 May 2009

Organisers of a hikoi in Auckland against plans for a super-city are warning of more aggressive action if the Government does not listen to their concerns.

About 7000 people converged in Queen Street, bringing central Auckland to a standstill on Monday afternoon, to push for guaranteed Maori seats on the new single council, and a referendum.

The Government wants Auckland to consist of a super-council with one mayor elected by voters and up to 30 community boards.

It has made significant changes to the system recommended by the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance, which spent over a year considering how the region's 1.4 million residents could be better served by their councils.

The commission had recommended that three seats be reserved for Maori on the super-council but the Government rejected this, saying the public will get a chance to decide whether it wants Maori seats on the council.

Maori leaders say the loss of guaranteed seats is a tragedy, while others are concerned that the Government's changes to the super-city plan are undemocratic.

Organisers of the Monday's march say a clear message has been sent to the Government. Ngati Whatua trustee Ngarimu Blair says further protests over Maori representation on the council cannot be ruled out.

Mr Blair says Maori leaders are working with Government on proposals to find a way to have the seats established.

"We're also talking with the Pacific community and other ethnic minorities about potential strategic political alliances should we not get the seats. It's not just the hikoi - we carry on fighting and if our generation doesn't get these seats, then our kids will try, our grandkids will try until one day we get them."

Mr Blair says the Government has told Maori that having specific seats for them would be undemocratic. But Mr Blair says it is the Government who has been undemocratic by imposing its plan for the super-city.

Nga Puhi chairman Sonny Tau says the turnout shows the issue of representation is near and dear to Maori and they should not be left on the periphery.

He says if the hikoi does not make a difference to the Government's plans, they will have to rethink their strategy and be more aggressive.

Hikoi participant Kowhai Olsen says many believe the Government's plans affect only Aucklanders, however a framework is being set up that could be used for other councils around the country.

Minister stands firm

Local Government Minister Rodney Hide says while the final decision on the issue of Maori representation rests with the Government, the hikoi has not changed his mind on the issue.

Mr Hide believes in the idea of one person, one vote and is not happy with calls to reserve seats on the council for Maori.

"I think we can do better. I think we can have a mechanism of engagement but I don't think reserving seats for particular groups is a good idea in New Zealand."

Prime Minister John Key says he is not convinced of the merits of Maori seats on the super-council, but remains open to public feedback on the matter.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples, who took part in the hikoi, is optimistic there will be Maori representation.

The Maori Affairs Minister believes Mr Key is open to proposals on the issue of using wards based on the Maori electorates. Dr Sharples says the Government would be silly not to appoint Maori wards and Maori seats.

Hikoi held on Bastion Point anniversary

The hikoi took place on the 31st anniversary of the Bastion Point occupation.

Groups of protesters gathered in four parts of Auckland early on Monday, then made their way on foot, by car and by bus to the city centre.

Demonstrators then marched up Queen Street, many carrying banners and Tino Rangitiratanga flags. They gathered outside the Town Hall where they listened to speakers and bands before beginning to disperse about 2pm.

Nearly 1,000 people walked in cold wet conditions from Orakei Marae at Bastion Point to lower Queen Street. About 600 from South Auckland walked from the Domain to meet them.

Convoys of cars and buses dropped several hundred more people from north and west Auckland off at Victoria Park. About 40 cars from the North Shore hikoi had travelled down the Northern Motorway about 20km/h.

Police were out in force but said there had been no major problems or traffic issues. The crowd was well behaved and there were no arrests.