15 Feb 2011

Maori board to invite council to join court action

8:24 pm on 15 February 2011

The Independent Maori Statutory Board is to ask the Auckland Council to join it in court action aimed at resolving their disagreement over funding and powers.

The unelected board was established as part of the amalgamation of eight councils on 1 November last year. The statutory board was created to represent Maori interests, with members able to sit on some council committees.

The board believes that the Auckland Council has broken the law by cutting $2.5 million from a previous funding agreement later found to be invalid.

Last week, the council voted unanimously to give the board $5.4 million over 20 months. When the debate was held again on Monday night the figure was cut to $2.85 million and some councillors questioned the board's role on council committees.

The board met on Tuesday and chairman David Taipari says clarification from the High Court is urgently needed.

Mr Taipari says it is appropriate for the Auckland Council to be involved in the court action and the board wants to work constructively with it, as the decision will have bearing on both parties.

However, he told Checkpoint on Tuesday he does not believe the council has followed due process.

"We're not sure that that's been followed by the council, so rather than each other throwing words across the table, we'll get the court to judge on that."

Mr Taipari says the board is considering seeking both a declaratory judgement and judicial review over the matter.

The Auckland Mayor's office says the council will hold off on making a decision on whether to joint the court action until after it has received a letter from the board.

However, a spokesperson says Mayor Len Brown and the council are keen to work closely with the board.

Local Government Minister Rodney Hide says the planned court action bears out his concerns about the board's existence. He says creating a board to represent Maori in Auckland was, in his view, divisive and he did not support it.

Mr Hide says he is disappointed the board is going to court to clarify its rights, but it has the right to do so. However, he has some sympathy for the position Mr Brown and the council are in.

Disappointment over wrangling

Maori representation on Auckland's new council has long been a point of contention. In 2009, the Government declined a Royal Commission recommendation for three Maori seats and 7000 people took to the streets in protest.

As a result, Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples played a key role in drawing up the current format and told Morning Report on Tuesday he is disappointed with the wrangling over the funding for the new board.

Dr Sharples says an independent analysis was carried out regarding funding, which had been accepted by a council committee.

Auckland Council member Christine Fletcher told Morning Report she blames the council's own sloppy process for the wrangling and council officers have had to work to difficult timelines.

Labour Party leader Phil Goff says ratepayers will have to foot the bill for any legal action taken by the board.

Mr Goff believes the legislation setting up the council and the Maori board was passed too quickly, without adequate consideration.