South Wairarapa District Council (SWDC) is having conversations about establishing a Māori ward in the district.
The council previously decided against establishing Māori wards for the 2022 elections in 2021, but now the issue is back on the table. It was a contentious decision at the time, with Wairarapa iwi issuing a public statement expressing disappointment. Dozens of activists briefly occupied SWDC offices in Martinborough, with then-chief executive Harry Wilson singing them a waiata.
Earlier this year, an independent panel that spent two years reviewing the state of local government concluded a radical overhaul was needed, including stronger relationships with Māori.
The panel's 17 recommendations included the introduction of a statutory requirement for councils to develop partnership frameworks with hapū/iwi and Māori.
A report about an upcoming council representation review tabled at Wednesday's Martinborough Community Board (MCB) meeting included an update on questions about a ward.
The report comes as Masterton and Carterton District Councils this week confirmed they are considering merger options in conversations, which would include mana whenua.
The report said the principles of the review were to ensure "fair and effective representation for individuals and communities" in local government. It would consider whether to include a Māori Ward for the 2025 elections, and other issues.
Whether to establish a Māori Ward in time for the 2025 elections was one of two key resolutions SWDC would need to consider, with changing the electoral system from first past the post to single transferable vote the other. However, SWDC discussed and decided in August that FPP will be used in 2025.
"Officers have undertaken early engagement with the Māori Standing Committee to outline changes to the Local Electoral Amendment Act 2021 and the possibility of one Māori ward (based on the 2022 estimated census data) should a Māori ward be established," the report said.
"Consultation with local iwi continues, with recommendations required from the Māori Standing Committee before a resolution be made on the Māori ward."
A timeframe including an optional date of 23 November for a council resolution on Māori Representation was included in the report.
After the 2021 protest, then SWDC mayor Alex Beijen issued an open letter expressing his support for establishing the ward but said more time was needed for consultation.
"On a personal level, I also strongly support the concept of Māori wards, as I know other councillors do," he said.
"Council decided against the establishment of Māori wards for the 2022 elections after careful consideration. We felt that a long lead time was needed to engage with our Māori and broader community before we could make such an important decision. We recognised there was much work to do to build our partnership with whānau, hapū and iwi."
The 2021 protest came after a joint press release from all four Wairarapa iwi entities, blasting SWDC for failing to consider introducing Māori seats and claiming the stance contravened the provisions of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
The iwi statement said they were "extremely disappointed" with what they called SWDC's "continued misinformation, delay tactics and the inability to engage with tangata whenua" for the establishment of a Māori ward.
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