Revealed: The cost of pursuing Rotorua’s Māori ward local bill

6:24 pm on 11 March 2022

The pursuit of a bill to allow an equal number of Māori and general ward seats in Rotorua has so far cost ratepayers more than $46,500.

Mayor Steve Chadwick

Rotorua mayor Mayor Steve Chadwick. Photo: Rotorua Daily Post / Andrew Warner via LDR

It comes as mayoral candidate Fletcher Tabuteau took to social media earlier this week saying he believed the work was "a waste of council time and resource".

The bill would allow the Rotorua Lakes Council's preferred governance model of three Māori ward seats, three general ward seats and four at-large seats, which is unlawful under the Local Electoral Act.

The Act has a strict formula that limits the number of Māori ward seats proportionate to the number of people on the Māori and general rolls within an electorate.

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The local bill would allow the rule to be changed for the Rotorua district only and would apply to two elections, but has allowances for it to be extended.

On Friday, the council confirmed to Local Democracy Reporting the cost to ratepayers to date was $46,554.30, made up entirely of legal fees.

In the social media post, Tabuteau said if he were elected mayor he would work "incredibly hard" to advance Māori aspirations, especially through economic growth.

"Just as importantly, I will be doing that for our Pākehā, Indian and Chinese communities. We either thrive together or we don't.

"We cannot operate in silos, certainly based on racial division."

The former NZ First deputy leader said a council couldn't "do much directly" but it could tautoko (support) central government, local community groups and iwi organisations to achieve their goals.

"I think that the Rotorua Lakes Council presenting a local bill to central government to change the law ... is a waste of council time and resource. Save that for central government."

Rotorua mayoral candidate Fletcher Tabuteau

Rotorua mayoral candidate Fletcher Tabuteau Photo: Supplied / Stephen Parker

Speaking to Local Democracy Reporting on Thursday, Tabuteau said effectively changing the formula for Māori wards should be a "national conversation".

"This shouldn't be for a council. There was money spent on drafting this local bill and resource put into it.

"You have to ask yourself 'what's the end game'?

"Is it to change the democratic system or is it to make meaningful change for Māori and Te Arawa?"

He said the electoral system already worked well and the council was currently one of the most "beautifully diverse".

He didn't support Māori wards generally, but said he wasn't campaigning to remove them now they were in place.

However, he supported the existence of Te Tatau o Te Arawa.

"I've loved the work they've done, but I'm willing to say publicly, 'is there a better way for Te Arawa to have a voice at the table?' I'd love Te Arawa to have that conversation amongst themselves and come and include me in it."

He said of Te Tatau's desire for co-governance: "let's have a conversation first".

Asked if he supported co-governance, Tabuteau said: "we have a democracy that works now, let's get on and empower Māori and all people in Rotorua".

Te Tatau o Te Arawa chairman and Bay of Plenty regional councillor Te Taru White. Photo / File / Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post [via ldr single use only]

Te Tatau o Te Arawa chairman and Bay of Plenty regional councillor Te Taru White. Photo: Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post

Te Tatau o Te Arawa chairman Te Taru White said he didn't agree the pursuit of the local bill was a waste of time or resources.

"Absolutely not. We don't support that.

In his view: "It's an election year. People are trying to be all things to all people."

He said while Te Tatau had appealed against the council's adopted governance model with just one Māori ward seat, it supported the local bill.

"Māori will always aspire to be partners, and the default reference is to the Treaty."

White said the Local Electoral Act was "out of date" and not serving its function.

"The council is trying to offer an opportunity for greater participation.

"Obviously, Te Tatau is supportive of that."

White said the council was currently diverse but that could change "quite quickly" and Māori ward seats helped protect Māori representation.

Te Arawa had voted for the creation of Te Tatau but remained open-minded to discussion about the best approach to represent the iwi in local government, he said.

"We're here for our grandchildren, not the three-year [election] cycle."

Rotorua-based list MP Tāmati Coffey.

Rotorua-based Labour list MP Tāmati Coffey Photo: Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post

Rotorua-based Labour list MP Tāmati Coffey, who is sponsoring the local bill, said the council had a legislative obligation to "bring Māori to the table".

"Treaty partnership is not 'racially divided silos'.

In his view: "If Fletcher wants to be the mayor, he needs to wake up to how both [the] council and Te Arawa want that partnership to look.

"Co-governance through this local bill, is just that.

"Despite Te Arawa gifting much of the township of Rotorua in 1880, democracy has disempowered Te Arawa, to make decisions for our city.

"Only now in 2022, 142 years later, are they asking for a more representative arrangement, which allows them to sit at the council table."

Coffey said all Rotorua mayoral candidates this year "should understand that Māori are currently playing a crucial role in fixing our housing, health and education issues in Rotorua".

"That can only occur meaningfully when there is a genuine willingness from [the] council and central government to partner for the best outcomes."

Neither the council nor mayor Steve Chadwick wished to comment in response to Tabuteau, but directed Local Democracy Reporting to a 4 March council statement.

In it, Chadwick said the Local Electoral Act did not permit representation arrangements that were "fit for Rotorua".

"We've made a bold move seeking legislative change through this bill, but it is reflective of the unique way we operate here in Rotorua and it is what is right for our community.

"We must carve out a new path that better serves the constituents that voted us into these seats."

Chadwick said representation in Rotorua "must reflect the bicultural intent" of te Tiriti o Waitangi and the Rotorua Township (Fenton) Agreement.

"I am confident that this is the right way forward."

A council spokeswoman said work on the bill had been "part of staff members' regular day-to-day work" and time had not been recorded.

The Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill has been publicly notified and is available to view through council channels.

After the notification period it will be introduced to Parliament, and if it passes its first reading, will follow a select committee process during which the public can make submissions.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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