Northland Regional Council today voted to bring in new Māori constituencies - in a controversial move that led to a long-term councillor resigning.
Former Northland Regional Council (NRC) deputy-chairperson and current councillor John Bain walked out of today's meeting in Whāngarei saying he couldn't support the 'broken democracy' of bringing in Māori constituencies.
Bain, also the chairperson of the heavyweight Northland regional transport committee, walked out of the meeting, stunning those present, before councillors including NRC chairperson Penny Smart voted seven to one in favour of these constituencies.
The NRC decision in favour of Māori constituencies as soon as the 2022 local government elections was greeted with a spontaneous waiata from tangata whenua watching the meeting in the council chambers.
"The decision is a milestone for Northland and for local government in New Zealand," Smart said after the historic vote.
NRC's decision came after more than an hour's heated debate on the topic ended with NRC deputy-chairperson Justin Blaikie voting against Māori constituencies. Smart - who moved the motion calling for their establishment - and councillors Jack Craw, Colin "Toss" Kitchen, Amy Macdonald, Marty Robinson, Rick Stolwerk and Joce Yeoman voted for the constituencies.
Northland electors will now have the opportunity to vote for or against the NRC councillors' decision as part of the legal process around bringing in the constituencies. This requires NRC to publicly notify its decision and at the same time let voters know about their right to initiate a poll on it.
A citizen-initiated poll can go ahead if five percent of NRC electors demand this happens. That means 6027 of the council's 120,548 electors are needed before a poll can proceed. This would be paid for by NRC at a cost of $240,000.
The poll outcome could overturn the council decision if the majority of electors polled vote against it. That would be a simple majority of one on the total number of electors, in what would be an optional not compulsory vote.
The poll demand would need to be given to NRC before 21 February in order for all the necessary processes to be in place in time to have Māori constituencies for the 2022 local government elections, depending on the poll's outcome.
Those demanding the poll would need to physically collect 6027 signatures on paper and give this hardcopy to NRC.
The poll would need to be completed before 21 May to be in time for the 2022 elections.
Bain wanted NRC to instead first go out to Northlanders in a council-initiated poll to get the community's steer on what it wanted.
He tried to move an amendment to what became the council's final decision, but this failed. This was based around the council going out to the public for its views, rather than first choosing to proceed with the constituencies.
Blaikie seconded Bain's amendment, voting in favour of it along with Kitchen and Stolwerk.
But the amendment was lost 4:5 when Smart, Craw, Macdonald, Robinson and Yeoman voted against it.
So, Bain announced his resignation to the meeting at 11.25am, saying he did not want to be part of a "broken democracy".
"There's no point [in] me sitting through the rest of the agenda, no point in staying, I take my departure," Bain said.
He handed a written resignation letter to councillors to Smart and left the room.
Bain's initial moves towards a council-initiated poll were to operate outside council first making a decision to introduce the constituencies. But meeting procedure resulted in his call being framed within the context of NRC setting up Māori constituencies and then initiating the poll.
He said it was for the community, not the council, to decide on the matter. He would stick with whatever decision the community made.
Smart did not accept Bain's resignation at the meeting. She said it would "lie on the table for two weeks".
She would not comment further on Bain's resignation after the meeting because of this.
After the meeting, Bain said he was comfortable with his decision, made on a matter of principle about the democratic process not singling out any particular race.
The need for a poll as part of councils deciding on the introduction of Māori constituencies has become a national flashpoint in the process. They consistently result in communities overturning council decisions to bring in Māori constituencies or wards.
Poll results are binding, regardless of whether the poll's initiated by the council or the community. This means the council must go with whatever its citizens vote for.
NRC's Tai Tokerau Māori and council working party (TTMAC) has asked NRC works with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the chairperson of Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) to change the Local Electoral Act that requires polling to be held.
Councillor Marty Robinson, TTMAC co-chairperson, said Māori constituencies were an important part of doing the best for Northland as a whole.
Smart said today's decision first and foremost honoured councils' requirement to honour the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi in its participation with Māori.
"No Pākeha can have a Māori world view," she said.
Māori had not changed their priorities around the treaty. It was up to Pākehā to change their view.
Central government had given clear messages around its wishes for increased Māori participation in local government, she said.
NRC councillor Amy Macdonald said NRC had a clear mandate for the move from local government legislation. She said it was important to have the constituencies to boost economic, social, cultural and environmental wellbeing for Māori.
New Zealand had just been through the general election with landslide change, Yeoman said. Māori seats were 'part and parcel' of that change.
Yeoman seconded the council's motion in favour of Māori constituencies. She had no idea why this wasn't being replicated in local government.
"For God's sake, why are we not doing it [too]," Yeoman said during debate.
"There is nothing to fear with this decision. It's just the right bloody decision, so let's just do it.
"Māori are not a minority, they signed the Treaty of Waitangi, a founding document for our country."
Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the News Publishers' Association and NZ On Air.