12 Feb 2021

Māori excluded in local democracy 'forever' - councillor

5:20 pm on 12 February 2021

A Waikato Māori ward councillor rejects legislation to rid binding polls on Māori wards has been rushed, saying Māori have been seeking inclusion in local democracy "forever".

Tipa Mahuta

Tipa Mahuta. Photo: Youtube

The Māori affairs committee at Parliament is hearing public feedback over extended hours on legislation which would uphold council decisions to establish Māori wards after the bill passed its first reading under urgency on Tuesday.

The current law allows the decision of a council to introduce a Māori ward to be overturned by a local poll and only 5 percent of support is needed for a poll to be demanded.

The new bill would ensure local polls can no longer overturn a councils' decision, making the establishment of Māori wards easier ahead of the 2022 local elections.

Tipa Mahuta, who has held one of the two Māori seats on Waikato Regional Council for seven years, said making it easier to establish Māori wards would ensure greater representation.

She had no issue with the bill being rushed through under urgency.

"When we argue about time frames it's because it's excluding us. This is inclusion," she said.

National's Nick Smith asked Mahuta if she would feel the same if a future government introduced a bill removing Māori wards and rushed it through under urgency, to which she replied "inclusion is your choice."

Local democracy excludes Māori far more than national democracy, Mahuta said.

"As ratepayers we can't get an audience to deal with longstanding water quality issues in rural communities and they're meant to get equal service from my other councillors but again, they are not communities of interest to them, so how would they represent them?"

Having two Māori seats on Waikato Regional Council has only benefited it, Mahuta said.

However Hobson's Pledge spokesperson Don Brash told the committee it was "scandalous" that the legislation was being rushed through.

Brash said it was "unforgivable" that there was no hint of this change in Labour's election manifesto and it was not given sufficient time for public consultation.

"I got an email advising me make a submission at 12:10pm on Wednesday to submit by 5pm Thursday. I mean it's an outrage".

Brash said he "strongly opposed" the legislation because the pre-text that it was necessary in order for the Maori voice to be heard was "absolutely absurd".

"Every piece of law which affects local government quite specifically requires local government to consult with iwi.

"Moreover, 13.5 percent of all elected officials at local government are already Maori New Zealanders, which is roughly the same proportion as Maori are in the population.

"This bill is seeking to rectify a mischief that is not a mischief at all", he said.

The committee heard from several local council representatives who were strongly in favor of the bill.

Ruapehu District Council Chief Executive Clive Manley told the committee the time had come to do away with the public polls.

He said councils are elected because they represent the views of their constituents, and they should be entrusted with consulting and reaching decisions on issues like this.

"A poll unfortunately is very similar to social media, in that it's emotion, it's unreasoned in a lot of times, and it's very easily swayed. So we totally support the removal of the poll from this way of electing.

"We believe that council is perfectly capable of consulting with Maori and the community on these sorts of decisions, and effectively we should be allowed to", Manley said.

Gisborne councillor Meredith Akuhata-Brown says New Zealand still has work to do to unpack the “macho” male psyche.

Gisborne councillor Meredith Akuhata-Brown. Photo: LDR/ Rebecca Grunwell/ The Gisborne Herald

Gisborne councillor Meredith Akuhata-Brown doesn't herself whakapapa to the region she represents, but told Morning Report that Māori wards would ensure a voice for local iwi and hapū.

"This is about understanding the wealth of knowledge, the Maramataka, mātauranga and Te Ao Māori tikanga, and actually our true ancesteral, generational gifted knowledge."

It was also an opportunity for people to learn from such knowledge, she said.

"I see this as actually an opportunity for people to understand that for a long time the knowledge of the landscape we've been gifted to govern, elected to govern.

"There's actually local people who are from the land that have generational knowledge passed down to them, and who have always had to come to council to make submissions, to constantly battle in this space to be heard."

She said Māori wards would help cut down on fees for consultants hired by council to speak with local manawhenua - effectively cutting out the middle man.

"When it comes to set knowledge about landscape, around how our awa have moved, even with regard to whenua that have been used as dumps.

"All of these things that come up for council to deliberate on, this is a time now where a lot of our whanau from the landscape that has been challenged, or been pillaged, have been transformed through a capitalist model as such."

She said she was expecting some "really strong conversations" about what was right for the region.

"If we keep talking about who sits around those tables, having manawhenua, having people from the local iwi and hapū sit at the council table with that knowledge, in my view is going to be such a benefit."

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