19 Nov 2020

Emotions run high as Hawke's Bay Regional Council debates Māori wards

7:05 am on 19 November 2020

There were tears, anger and frustration last night and the public walked out as Hawke's Bay Regional Council debated bringing in Māori wards.

28072016 Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King. Hawkes Bay Regional Council

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

In the end, the councillors voted five to three to hold off making a decision.

Mike Paku, co-chair of the council's Māori committee, has only speaking and not voting rights when the full council meets.

He pleaded with councillors to back the proposal to add one or two Māori seats from the next election in 2022.

"To have the voice of Māori recognised, the right to back up what we give as advice and turn that into something meaningful by having the same rights that you do and be able to vote for our convictions is really what we are asking for."

The other Māori committee chair, Michelle McIlroy, was in tears as she asked the council to take action.

"Our people, many of whom who are no longer with us, have been disappointed time and time again and our kaumātua have waited their lifetime. Demonstrate today in your vote that you believe Māori have a seat in this table of government."

But councillor Hinewai Ormsby told the meeting there needed to be more public discussion.

She said there were too many unanswered questions.

"I have heard the frustrations and disappointment from tangata whenua about whether or not we've had time to have this conversation. The conversations being do we understand what the implications are for one Māori seat, two Māori seats, who could run for those seats, who can vote for those seats, the spilt of rolls?"

Ormsby's resolution passed - for a poll to be held at the next election in 2022 on whether there should be Māori seats.

This would be subject to legislative change and there must be, in the council's words, robust engagement and consultation with the community.

Deputy chair Rick Barker strongly oppressed the resolution, because he wanted Māori seats.

"I find this, in my personal view, weak. If we had had a poll on banning cigarette smoking in bars, we'd have lost. The only time progress is made is when leaders stand up and lead. I think this is a complete failure."

Chair Rex Graham agreed with Barker. He said he was disappointed the council did not even spell out whether or not it supported Māori seats.

"I'm very reluctant to hand this decision over, just hand it over without an argument to the constituency, without us standing firm and saying we want this to happen."

At the end of the meeting, a bitterly disappointed Mike Paku had this message:

"I understand the position councillors find themselves in. But there was another option that was also there - it was the ability to support the establishment of Māori wards and call for a poll, you could've done that, that would've been showing leadership, what you have shown here is not leadership, you have backed well away from this."

Seven councils around the country have given the tick this year for Māori seats to go ahead for the next local elections.

But that can be overturned if 5 percent of voters ask for a referendum. A majority must say no.

The government is looking at changing the rules in the Local Government Act to alter the poll rules.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs