4 Apr 2019

Ngāi Tahu Representation Bill voted down in Parliament

8:43 am on 4 April 2019

New Zealand First has scuppered Labour's bid to give Ngāi Tahu permanent seats on the Canterbury Regional Council, saying its special treatment for Māori.

Shane Jones

NZ First's Shane Jones says Ngāi Tahu already have the means to assert their voice in the region. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Labour MP for Te Tai Tonga Rino Tirikatene introduced the Ngāi Tahu Representation Bill to parliament yesterday - it was voted down when New Zealand First sided with National.

There are two Ngāi Tahu representatives on the Canterbury Regional Council, but under existing governance legislation those roles will expire before October's local body elections.

Mr Tirikatene stood before parliament yesterday in a bid to make them permanent.

"Continuing Ngāi Tahu representation on the council is key in ensuring the values and concerns of mana whenua are given full expression in all aspects of council decision-making."

However, NZ First's Shane Jones said powerhouse iwi Ngāi Tahu already had the means to assert their voice in the region.

"We are talking about the most well-endowed, most powerful of all the Māori tribes of te ao Māori. They have the power, they have the historical and mana whenua associations to well and truly stand up for themselves."

Mr Jones acknowledged the party's long-held position against separate seats for Māori on local body councils.

"The application of the law is not colour blind. In terms of being appointed to the council through the tribal route, we cannot and we do not agree with that."

Mr Jones told Morning Report the council should be capable of dealing with Ngāi Tahu without having designated seats for iwi representatives.

"There are a host of opportunities for diversity to be shown in the legislation that is administered by the council," he said.

"The Resource Management Act is replete with a host of references identifying Māori rights, Māori interests and principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, the kaupapa... Who administers that piece of legislation, obviously not very well, but the Canterbury Regional Council."

Mr Jones said "unreformed attitudes" at the Council were getting in the way.

"They should already be capable of addressing Ngāi Tahu issues. The fact that they're not doesn't necessarily mean that we have to have the minister of Māori affairs appoint Ngāi Tahu people at a time when I expected in my lifetime that the most powerful economy force in the South Island would be the Ngāi Tahu tribe."

The National Party also refused to give the bill its support.

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Nelson MP Nick Smith says making the seats permanent for Ngāi Tahu will be a radical change. Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King

MP Nick Smith, who as Environment Minister replaced the elected regional council with government appointees in 2010, said making the seats permanent would be a radical change to the way local government has operated for more than 150 years.

"The basic principle of the election of our local councils, whether they be regional or local, is that they are elected by the general public."

However, Green-Party co-leader Marama Davidson said guaranteeing a Māori voice on council was an obligation under the Treaty of Waitangi.

"I completely disagree that this is any sort of special treatment at all. It's an affirmation of te tiriti o Waitangi and partnership and it is about guaranteeing mana whenua voices at decision-making tables."

Mr Tirikatene said the outcome of the bill's first reading was a step backwards for the region.

"For close to nearly the last nine years there's been Ngāi Tahu representation on Environment Canterbury. It has provided the confidence throughout Ngāi Tahu and it has helped facilitate so much good work that they're been doing."

Canterbury Regional Council is now run by a mix of elected members and government appointees.

It will return to being directly elected in October's local body elections.

ECan's chairperson Steve Lowndes told Morning Report the Council had yet to plan how the iwi and their issues would be represented from October.