District councils across the region are reviewing their Māori ward policy in the wake of last week’s abolition of the power of veto by voters.
Legislation pushed by Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta places the creation of Māori wards on the same footing as any other ward.
Electorates can no longer reject Māori wards via a referendum.
Referenda consistently overturned council plans to create Māori wards and only two of the 24 councils that tried succeeded.
Just three of New Zealand’s 78 councils have Māori wards – Wairoa District Council, Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Waikato Regional Council. The Bay of Plenty seats were set up under special legislation.
Ms Mahuta said polls created an “almost insurmountable barrier” and the process was fundamentally unfair to Māori.
Now, with the potential time-consuming referendum issue removed, councils could opt as late as the third week of May to introduce Māori wards for 2022.
Many councils – including Waipā – already function with iwi representatives having voting rights on standing committees and the option of a single seat for a Māori representative as an alternative is not universally supported as an improvement.
Linda Te Aho, Chair of Waikato Tainui’s Te Arataura this week urged councils who opted for Maori wards to retain those Māngai Māori (voice of Māori) positions.
Waipā District Councillors met on Tuesday last week to discuss the law change and whether or not they should consider creating a Māori ward. Some councillors believe a ward should be created, and that issue will now be debated.
Emails were sent to councillors the day after legislation changed asking what they thought the best option was for the district in 2022. Only councillor Andrew Brown responded with an opinion – that Māori wards was a matter the council should consider.
Hamilton City Council is also expected to discuss whether to review its Māori representation process, which like Waipā sees iwi representatives on standing committees with voting rights.
Ōtorohanga District Council began talks with Nehenehenui Regional Management Committee a couple of week ago and will meet with iwi leaders to get their thoughts.
“In the past, local iwi have indicated that they do not want Māori Wards here, however with the latest change to the legislation, we are actively engaging with them to see whether their views have changed,” chief executive Tanya Winter told the News.
Waikato District has a Joint Management Agreement with Waikato-Tainui and says it consults with Māngai Māori – the iwi representatives on its main committees – before all decisions that affect the Māori community.
The Council reviewed the Māori ward issue in November as part of its 2021 Representation Review. It resolved to poll electors on the issue at the 2022 local government elections after opting against setting up a Māori ward in 2022.
It is one of at least four in the country to go down that road – others include Far North District Council, Opotiki District Council and Hawke’s Bay District Council
Both Taupo and Ruapehu District Councils have voted to establish Māori wards for the 2022 election.
South Waikato elected not to introduce Māori wards and submissions on that decision closed on February 22. It did not respond to questions from the News, and neither did the Matamata-Piako District Council. That council has Te Manawhenua forum, which meets four times a year.