10 Oct 2016

No Māori councillors, no surprise for iwi leader

8:57 pm on 10 October 2016

It is disappointing but not surprising that no Māori candidates won a seat on the New Plymouth District Council, a Taranaki iwi leader says.

Liana Poutu, Te Atiawa Chairman

Te Kotahitanga o Te Atiawa chair Liana Poutu: "Majority votes always win out in elections such as this." Photo: SUPPLIED / Taranakiiwi.org.nz

Two Māori candidates stood for mayor, and another three joined them in seeking a place on the council. None of them came close to securing a seat.

Te Kotahitanga o Te Atiawa chair Liana Poutu said that result wasn't a surprise.

"It's not surprising actually and we've known that that's the case - [we] know that we're a minority, know that majority votes always win out in elections such as this."

The result came after former New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd attempted to introduce a Māori ward in the district.

The council voted to establish such a ward last year but the decision was quashed by a public-initiated referendum, with 83 percent of the 25,000 votes cast against the proposal.

Mr Judd said he had been spat at and abused in the street over the issue. The response also led to a hikoi of 500 people who walked to Parihaka to protest against racial division.

Ms Poutu said the election result was a sad reflection on the community.

"Diversity at a table, at a decision-making table, makes a better decision."

"There is disappointment, especially of those candidates who put themselves up for election, we really acknowledge them because it is a courageous thing to do, especially when you're Māori."

Cultural competency consultant Bev Gibson fell just 800 votes short of being elected to New Plymouth District Council.

Bev Gibson Photo: Supplied

Cultural competency consultant Bev Gibson came the closest of the five Māori candidates to winning a seat, falling 800 votes short.

She said more needed to be done to mobilise the Māori vote.

"I think sometimes we just get a bit, flippant I guess, or can't be bothered.

"You have to go around and ask people [who did not vote], those 55.72 percent - 'Why didn't you vote, how can we help you vote, what is it we can do that will encourage you to vote.'"

The result was that the council did not reflect the community it served, she said.

"They're going to be making calls for our 15 percent of our community which is Māori. And I just think there's something wrong with that picture but if, democratically, Māori can't get to the table, we need to look at a different strategy."

New mayor Neil Holdom agreed the election outcome did not reflect the community as a whole, also noting only two of the 15 elected councillors were women.

Incoming New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom.

Incoming New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom said plans to give a voice to hapū and iwi were under way. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

He said he hoped to have a process for including Māori in decision-making in place within three months.

"There are plans afoot and I'm confident within the next two to three months we'll be in a position to demonstrate how we are bringing hapū and iwi perspective to the council table.

Liana Poutu said it was the council's responsibility to make the first move.

"We really have to wait and see what the appetite of this council is to establish processes for Māori in this community to participate in decision-making. It's a legislative responsibility and it's really up to this incoming council to make some determinations about that."

The new council will be sworn in for the new term on 25 October.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs