New Plymouth Council signals support for ditching of Māori ward polls

11:03 am on 27 January 2021

The New Plymouth District Council has signalled its support of expected changes to the Local Electoral Act, scrapping the provision allowing for a poll following a decision to establish a Māori ward.

The council's only current Maori councillor Dinnie Moeahu says the time for a Māori ward had come.

The council's only current Maori councillor Dinnie Moeahu says the time for a Māori ward had come. Photo: Robin Martin

Last night councillors agreed to prepare a submission to government that backs getting rid of the citizens-initiated referendum.

But the decision was not unanimous.

In July, the council voted to establish a Māori ward for the 2022 election.

A petition for a citizens-initiated referendum on the issue was started immediately afterwards.

In 2015, a similar referendum overturned the establish of a Māori ward in the city when 83 percent of those who took part voted it down.

Last night, Mayor Neil Holdom threw his support behind the submission despite abstaining from the earlier vote on establishing a Māori ward.

"This is an unjust piece of legislation that needs to be addressed and it's only through communities voicing their views that we give those politicians the mandate to go out and do this reform."

However, Deputy Mayor Richard Jordan - who voted against the establishment of a Māori ward because it had not gone out for public consultation - stuck to his guns.

New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom, left, and deputy mayor Richard Jordan.

New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom, left, and deputy mayor Richard Jordan. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

"We're actually submitting on a bill that doesn't yet exist. We're trying to position ourselves on a bill that doesn't yet exist.

"I think we are again presuming that the community has a view that is actually not in line with this council.

"And the reason we're not going to the community to ask the community their thoughts and consult and listening to our community is because we think we will not like what they have to say."

The driving force behind the petition for a referendum opposing the Māori ward, councillor Murray Chong, reckoned he'd been left little choice.

Murray Chong

Murray Chong Photo: Glenn Jeffrey

"What I'm hearing out there is that people think the decision was a very arrogant decision because even with an 83 percent (vote against in 2015) we didn't want to consult with the public.

"The only way now you can consult with the public, because we decided not to, is to initiate a referendum."

But the council's only current Māori councillor, Dinnie Moeahu, believed a Māori ward's time had come.

"So when is the right time? The right time is when the moment is right and the moment is right now. That's the change we seek.

"You know, it's like we are waiting for another time or we're waiting for someone else to do it.

"When can you look around this table and just acknowledge we are the ones we've been waiting for. We're the ones to make that decision."

Moeahu said people had nothing to fear.

"Change can happen if there's the political will. If there is the courage to do so.

"And I would encourage all of you to stand firm. I would encourage our community moving forward to speak up, stand up, to represent.

"To understand this is a good thing for our entire community. It's a good thing."

Veteran councillor Gordon Brown paid tribute to former mayor Andrew Judd who left council shortly after the referendum which threw out the Māori ward in 2015.

"When Andrew Judd said he would not see re-election because he did not want to divide the the community any more. I said then that history would treat him more kindly than his contemporaries and by supporting this we are doing that."

Judd now campaigns to have the poll provision - which applies only to wards - removed from the Local Electoral Act.

Since the act's introduction in 2001 only the Waikato Regional Council and Wairoa District Council have successfully established a Māori ward.

In 2018, five councils voted to create one, but in every case they were overturned in a referendum the following year.

Nine councils - including New Plymouth - have voted to establish Māori wards for the 2022 elections.

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