16 Apr 2021

Hamilton City Council to consider Māori wards in 2022

9:57 am on 16 April 2021

Hamilton City Council has done a u-turn over Māori wards.

Hamilton mayoral candidate Paula Southgate

Hamilton Mayor Paula Southgate said she is pleased the issue remains alive and that public consultation will start immediately. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

Two weeks ago it decided to strengthen Māori representation on council committees but to defer a decision on Māori wards until after the next council term which ends in 2025.

On Thursday, it voted to overturn the earlier decision and will now consider the wards for the next election in 2022, but only after a three week period of public consultation.

The flip-flop came after a ground-swell of opposition to the 1 April decision.

Mayor Paula Southgate and some other councillors decided they wanted to relook at the issue.

''Revoking a decision by councillors is an unusual move and doesn't often happen but I'm actually very pleased that our council is back here today, around the table. It is the right thing to do.''

Public feedback

Before councillors debated revoking their earlier decision and the new motion, members of the public were given a chance to have their say.

"Māori should decide what is best for Māori. This includes whether or not Māori wards are needed and subsequently who will best represent the voice and aspirations of our people at the council table," one said.

''We need power sharing. This Treaty of Waitangi partnership is always lop-sided. We need to share power," another said.

''Imagine the calls of racism from Māori if we had the policy such as, by Europeans only, for Europeans only and only European wards," said one of those against the proposal.

''When a racial group is oppressed by systems of power and discriminated against based on their race, that is racism," another said.

''I humbly encourage the Hamilton City Council to do the right thing and allow these Māori wards to go ahead and be on the right side of history, kia ora."

''The fact that you have the opportunity to have an indigenous voice on this table is enough.''

Councillor's views

Former city councillor Daphne Bell said governance will be enhanced and improved by having Māori wards.

''I thought at one time Māori wards might have been a transitional step to better representation but I now understand that Māori wards will better reflect the Treaty partnership.''

Linda Te Aho spoke on behalf of Waikato-Tainui.

She reminded councillors of the Tiriti of Waitangi.

''It starts to look like partnership when Māori voices are being heard at every level. Staff, committees, hearings, panels and at the council table, the ultimate decision making forum. Inclusion at all levels of decision making goes some way for the council to act honourably.''

The motion to consider the introduction of Māori wards, was moved by the mayor and seconded by councillor Ryan Hamilton.

''I accept status quo is not working for Māori and they are over represented in all the wrong ways. These seats are not a silver bullet either but we acknowledge that it's an opportunity to do more and to do better together.''

Councillor Sarah Thompson said tangata whenua as Treaty partners should have a voice at the council table by right.

''This is only an immediate step and there is still a fight ahead but this is a step in the right direction and so today I feel like there is a renewed energy in the room.''

Two councillors abstained from the vote, Rob Pascoe and Deputy Mayor Geoff Taylor.

Taylor called on those wanting Māori wards to not take second best but to have the courage to stand for general seats.

''There is nothing stopping you from standing for council.''

This was met with jeering from the public gallery.

''Do you think it is easy. Have you put your heads above the parapet and have a go? Have you knocked on 1000 doors? Have you tried to convince people you are worth justifying their vote?''

Mayor Paula Southgate said she is pleased the issue remains alive and that public consultation will start immediately.

''I believe over the next three weeks we can work hard to talk not across each other but with each other through this process.''

A final decision will be made by council on 19 May.

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