The Council’s Te Arawa Partnerships Project proposal is at the Rotorua Muddy Waters website. It violates the principle of representative democracy and would give disproportionate power to a new Te Arawa Board. It is probably embarrassing to Te Arawa.
Te Arawa will know by now that the proposal is broadly unacceptable in our community. It has been given a hospital pass. A referendum would radicalise opinion, generate bitterness, and bury the proposal and hopes of a fresh settlement. Council needs to take back full responsibility for the quality of governance rather than outsourcing the challenge to one stakeholder.
The model is flawed. It requires Council to co-opt two of the Board’s members on to its committees of the whole Council, one member on to all other committees, and half of all members of the committee hearing Resource Management Act applications. These nominees would have the same powers but not the responsibilities and accountabilities of elected councillors. Power without responsibility and accountability is the first step to tyranny.
The consequences are predictable. The 2006 census showed that 61% of residents in our district belong to a European ethnic group while 36% identify as Maori. Once co-opted members combine with those already elected to the RDC with Maori ancestry or affiliations, the Te Arawa Board would have undue influence.
The Treaty does not have supremacy in law. And although most Kiwis use its three articles to support post-colonial restorative justice through the Tribunal, they reject ambiguities over long-gone sovereignty as good reason for allocating disproportionate power in local government today.
The Te Arawa Board would also gain disproportionate power in Maoridom. The 2006 census showed that 24% of people of Maori descent in our district affiliate with Te Arawa/Taupo Iwi. The rest affiliate with Tauranga Moana/ Mataatua, Te Tai Tokerau/ Tamaki Makau Rau, Te Tairawhiti, and Waikato.
Mana whenua needs to be reconciled with ‘equality of voice,’ especially by women, ‘all equal before the law’ and ‘one person one vote’. Council needs to rethink the Te Arawa Partnerships Project in more inclusionary terms of cultural engagement.
What about costs? The proposed TeArawa Board would have a fully-funded administration parallel to the RDC with access to its information systems. True! Its CEO would answer only to the Te Arawa Board, appoint support staff (undoing the ‘right sizing’ reforms) and set up consultative committees to monitor and advise on RDC operations. The right to written explanations, if advice is not taken, will guarantee relitigation and operational paralysis. And all of these new costs would have to be met by the ratepayers.
The timeline allows two more months for the Council and Te Arawa to finalise policy making and implementation. There is no space for the Mayor’s oft-promised consultations with other stakeholders prior to making fundamental changes to their rights as citizens in a representative democracy.
It was a political blunder for the Mayor and Council to try this ‘crash through or crash’ policy process. They need to build a sustainable consensus. But do they have the competence?
The PricewaterHouse Report did not exonerate the nine Councillors still with us from the previous Council; they did not understand the implications of their financial decision-making, and lacked the expertise to question the quality of financial reports they were given.
Similarly, the Mayor and Councillors do not appear to have the competence to understand the implications of their decision-making about governance, lacking the expertise, bar one, to question the flawed proposal they commissioned.
He whatitiri ki te rangi, ko te Arawa ki te whenua. We can admire Te Arawa’s capacity to strategize but Council is asking to hear their thunder alone. Can Te Arawa, a senior stakeholder, persuade the Mayor and Councillors to take back responsibility for delivering a legitimate policy settlement by engaging all stakeholders?
I hope so for their sake. And ours.
A slightly abridged version of this article appeared in the Rotorua Daily Post on 24 May 2014, p. 8 under the headline of ‘Referendum would radicalise opinion’. It appears here with the author’s permission. Reynold Macpherson may be contacted at email@example.com