24 Feb 2021

Hawke's Bay Regional Council opens consultation on Māori wards

5:23 pm on 24 February 2021

Hawke's Bay Regional Council has pushed back on adding Māori wards immediately and will hear what the public thinks before any decision is made.

28072016 Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King. Hawkes Bay Regional Council

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

This follows the government's introduction of legislation to uphold council decisions to establish Māori wards.

The current law allows the decision of an elected council to introduce a Māori ward to be overturned by a local poll.

Just five percent of support is needed for a poll to be demanded.

But the government want to change that rule, with Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta saying the process is "fundamentally unfair to Māori".

In November, the regional council decided to have a poll at the next election on whether there should be Māori seats.

At that meeting there were tears, anger and frustration, but today's meeting was more restrained.

This afternoon, the regional council revoked November's decision and quickly resolved to have community consultation within three months.

Under the proposed law, councils have to decide whether they want Māori wards for the next election by 21 May.

Councillor Martin Williams tabled the resolution, which he said had been discussed with councillors and staff before today's meeting.

"There is a clear direction of travel here," he said.

"Our proposal is to establish Māori seats ... but the wording equally signals that we necessarily retain an open mind until we have listened to all views that may be expressed by the wider community on the topic. No decision could be more significant than a change to our constitutional make up to a council and so the proposal demands consultation, regardless of how firm and clear the recommendations of our Māori committee are."

The council's Māori committee has clearly said it wanted the council to establish Māori constituencies for the next election.

Māori committee co-chair Mike Paku said he knew the feelings of the Māori community had been "well expressed numerous times".

He thought there was something important missing from today's decision, and aired his disappointment.

"It's really a clear indication from the councillors themselves, as to whether they believe that there should be Māori wards established. I understand about going out to the community and seeking submissions but where is the guidance from the councillors themselves?

"I understand there's politics at play here, I understand we're trying to reach a consensus amongst councillors but there has to be some leadership as well. There's an obligation for you to give direction not only to the Māori community but to the wider community - what is your position?"

Deputy chair Rick Barker responded to Paku.

"Mike, you said you felt the council should stake out a ground... I think we've thought about very carefully. But if you notice, councillors have been very restrained in what we've said today and done so deliberately and thoughtfully, because we're going to enter into a period of consultation, that we want the public to be aware that we're going to enter into this open-mindedly.

"We all have our thoughts about this but we want to have a fair, open, transparent process of consultation."

Māori committee co-chair Michelle McIlroy said the decision for Māori was not a race based decision, but a "treaty based decision".

"If you vote yes then you vote for equality, you vote for treaty partnerships, if you say vote no, what does that mean?"

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