11 Feb 2011

Minister, mayor at odds over Maori board

10:02 pm on 11 February 2011

Local Government Minister Rodney Hide and Auckland's Mayor remain at odds over who can decide the extent of powers of a board set up to represent Maori.

Mr Hide says the Auckland Council has the power to decide how many of its committees members of the Maori Statutory Board can sit on and how much funding to provide.

The minister insists that the council does not have to accept the views of the board about which committees its members will join.

Mayor Len Brown says a letter on Friday from Mr Hide does nothing to clarify what he calls "vagueness" in the legislation establishing the board.

In the letter, Mr Hide refers to the Maori Statutory Body as an advisory board. His views on the rights of the council conflict both with the council's view and the board itself.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples supported the idea of the statutory board and says the legislation was deliberately worded to allow the widest possible interpretation of how many committees it could join.

Dr Sharples says an advisory board is only called on by the council from time to time, but a statutory board has specific requirements.

The Auckland Council is having to reconsider giving the Maori board about $5 million after discovering that the vote by one of its committees on Tuesday was invalid.

The committee had approved a $2.06 million budget for the board's first eight months, with nearly $3.43 million sought for the next full year.

The funding will now be put to a full council vote on Monday.

Board considers next move

The Maori Statutory Board says it will reconsider its position if the council significantly cuts its budget.

Mayor Len Brown told Morning Report on Friday that, although the budget was assessed by an independent body, it still needs to come under scrutiny on behalf of the ratepayer.

Mr Brown says he has asked council officers to review the board's budget but will not say what level of savings he is seeking.

Board chairman David Taipari told Morning Report the proposed budget is not pie in the sky and reflects the job the board is required to do.

Mr Taipari says if the council does not support the budget, the board will address that once it has been determined.

Key test for mayor

The mayor, his council and the Government - which created the board - have all come in for criticism over the funding decision.

Councillor Cameron Brewer believes substantial cuts to the funding may be needed to secure enough votes when the full council revisits the issue next week.

Several councillors unhappy with the urgent nature of the original vote say it is a turning point in relations between Mr Brown and some on the council.