Even Nelson MP Nick Smith thinks the race-relations commissioner is out of line in calling for a law change to make Maori seats on councils a right, rather than leaving it to the public to decide. Commissioner Joris de Bres made his call after residents in Nelson and Wairoa voted against attempts to create separate Maori wards. Results were announced at the weekend.
In Nelson, with just 15, 387 votes received by the cut-off at midday on Saturday -- a 43.4 percent return -- there were 12,298 votes (79.41 percent) against the proposal and 3131 (20.22 percent) for it. Preliminary results of the official poll in Wairoa show that only 47.3 percent of electors opted to exercise their right to vote, with 1306 (51.89 percent) against and 1207 (47.95 percent) for.
A similar poll held by the Waikato District Council early last month rejected separate Maori representation. Of the 12,672 (30.16 percent) electors who voted, 10,111 were against the idea, while 2517 favoured it.
Last year, De Bres wrote to all councils, asking them to consider the question of Maori seats in their three-yearly representation review. He said that the Human Rights Commission had identified Maori local government representation and Maori involvement in the decisions of the new Auckland Council as being among the top 10 race-relations priorities for 2010.
Environment Bay of Plenty regional council established three Maori seats in 2001. Voter turnout for the three Maori constituencies in 2010 was between 27 percent and 41 percent.
De Bres says he would lobby for a law change during a review of the New Zealand constitution.
But Dr Smith said that the race-relations commissioner was going well beyond his brief telling New Zealanders what sort of representation options work best for them and him effectively. Dr Smith says his concern is that would be counter-productive to good race relations.
Councils around the country are able to decide every three years whether or not to introduce Maori wards. The polls were carried out as a result of petitions presented to the councils earlier this year. The results are binding for at least the next two triennial elections in 2013 and 2016.
Nelson is the only council in the country to have a dedicated Maori representative role on its executive. It also has a Maori forum, Kotahitangi Hui.