A poll of Waipā District Councillors on the issue of Māori wards has failed to produce any definitive answers.
Last week the News asked all 14 councillors by email for their opinions on the success of the model which sees an iwi representative given voting rights on each of council’s four standing committees – and whether they would support the creation of a Māori ward for the district.
One issue thrown up was that having iwi representatives on four standing committees could provide a platform with a louder voice than a single ward member.
On the issue of a Māori ward, only Susan O’Regan and Marcus Gower were already committed to vote in favour and only Roger Gordon said he would oppose such a proposal.
Mayor Jim Mylchreest, deputy Liz Stolwyk, Mike Pettit, Philip Coles, Andrew Brown, Lou Brown and Elwyn Andree-Wittens said they wanted to see proposed changes to the Act and receive all relevant information.
Jim Mylchreest supported the previous recommendation to establish a Māori Ward for Waipa and Andrew Brown told the News “adding a Māori ward to ensure representation from a significant proportion of our population seems like an excellent way to further improve our decision making”.
Lou Brown noted the appointment of iwi to standing committees was something a single ward councillor being appointed could not achieve.
He said the creation of a ward solely for Iwi “seems at this point in time to only allow a single councillor over all of the Waipa District… I personally would like to consider the proposed workshops on a Māori ward and make a more informed decision after consultation and discussion”.
The News had not received responses from Grahame Webber, Hazel Barnes, Clare St Pierre and Bruce Thomas when this edition went to press.
Māori wards are in the news because the government is to introduce legislation to uphold council decisions to establish Māori wards – where at present they can be overturned by referenda.
Seven years ago in New Plymouth such a referendum after a highly publicised bid by the city’s district council to establish a Māori ward saw just 17 per cent of the electorate back the move.
It prompted the then mayor Andrew Judd to stand down at the next election and embark on a campaign to have the referenda legislation tossed out.
It was in New Plymouth – and in the city council chambers – that Local Government minister Nanaia Mahuta announced at the start of this month the Government’s desire to see legislation changed.
She argues the process of establishing a ward should be the same for both Māori and general wards. At present, there is no similar legislation allowing the electorate to veto general ward changes.
Radio New Zealand did not have to look far to find an opponent to the move.
Last July the New Plymouth District Council again voted to create a Māori ward and councillor Murray Chong announced plans to launch another petition for a referendum to oppose it.
But the Minister’s announcement, showing the Government’s hand, effectively nullified any call for a referendum.
Submissions on the bill to change the legislation closed on February 11 and was backed by Local Government New Zealand.
“The existing poll provisions are unfair and inconsistent with every other ward type,” said LGNZ President Stuart Crosby.