Ōtorohanga votes for Māori ward

11:51 am on 22 April 2021

Ōtorohanga District councillors voted on Tuesday to establish a Māori ward.

Ōtorohanga town centre

Ōtorohanga town centre. Photo: RNZ/ Dan Cook

The vote was a majority one with councillor Rodney Dow being the only vote against it. Councillor Katrina Christison was absent.

"Councillors have alluded to the fact that there are still a lot of unanswered questions. I think it's very rushed," Dow said.

"I only knew it was going to be on the agenda when I read it the other day. It's been very hard to go and talk with the people in the town. I'm actually against it, I think it puts a wedge in the town.

"Why are we rushing? We aren't on fire or anything."

Councillor Robyn Klos opened discussion saying establishing a new ward seat was going to be a long process and they should act to start it off.

"I support the stance we are taking with the new Long Term Plan, being brave and courageous and all those other words that came out. And we should believe in that and act on it," Klos said.

"We can consult, but consult isn't enough, we have to consider, and it is a long process. We don't know all the answers to this and we don't know how this journey will go.

"Get on with it. Make a decision today to go ahead, and then start the process that has not been developed yet, and we haven't got the time to do it right now, but to put in place what needs to happen and the dialogue that needs to happen over a period of time - instead of trying to jam it into a couple of weeks.

"We know it's not going to be a straightforward process, and we are going to have to again be brave and courageous and believe in what we are doing."

Included in the ongoing refurbishment of the district council chambers is a wall sized copy of the Treaty of Waitangi, and they cannot ignore the obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi, Klos said.

Councillor Kit Jeffries asked what effect a Māori ward would have on the total representation numbers around the council table. Would the council continue as a mayor and seven councillors or will somebody be dropped off, or added on? Would the new ward affect other electoral boundaries?

The council's corporate general manager Graham Bunn said the questions would be part of the representation review now triggered by the ward decision.

The council resolved to establish a Māori Ward in Ōtorohanga for the 2022 triennial Local Government Elections. That meant the establishment of a Māori ward would go ahead without the need for wider consultation, following Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta's removal of the poll provisions on 2 March.

Before then, any council decision to include a Māori ward seat could be over turned by a 5 percent poll of electors.

Mayor Max Baxter said: "I am incredibly proud of our councillors on today's outcome".

"The addition of a Māori Ward can only enhance our decision-making and add value.

"We have listened to iwi in our district and working together is fundamental to the future of Ōtorohanga. Listening to the voice of Māori is a huge part of the equation."

Ōtorohanga District's population (2018 census) is 30 percent Māori. Councils establishing Māori wards must complete a representation review by 31 August to propose how many councillors it will have at the next election and the boundaries for any wards or constituencies.

The Māori Wards Act does not make any changes to the representation review process. The number of Māori councillors is calculated in accordance with a formula in the legislation which factors into consideration the overall number of councillors and the Māori electoral population and the general electoral population of the district.

The transition period during which councils may consider, or reconsider, establishing Māori wards or constituencies for the 2022 local elections, ends 21 May.

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