As Minister of Foreign Affairs she proceeded to declare:
“We confirm our support for Myanmar’s democratic institutions and the rule of law.”
But as Minister of Local Government, Mahuta recently sacked the democratically elected members of the Tauranga City Council.
And yesterday, in the same ministerial job, she set about rewriting the rules enabling voters in that city – or any other local body area – to challenge the introduction of race-based Māori wards.
The Tauranga proposal would have gone to a referendum after a petition calling for a community vote met a necessary threshold under the law
RNZ reported at the weekend –
In August last year, councillors voted to introduce wards in the district where nearly 20 percent of the population is Māori.
If 5 percent of electors opposed this, a community wide vote was to be called.
Local electoral officer Warwick Lampp confirmed a petition calling for a vote reached the threshold of 4742 signatures.
But it’s not going to happen.
Having sacked the council, Mahuta yesterday announced:
The Government is supporting councils working to increase representation for Māori in local government by putting in place the same rules to establish Māori wards as general wards for the 2022 local elections.
Its support is for “councils”, let it be emphasised – it’s not for the citizens who elect councillors to represent their interests and act on their behalf.
Mahuta acknowledged that the current law allows the decision of an elected council to introduce a Māori ward to be overturned by a local poll. Just 5 per cent of support is needed for a poll to be demanded.
This is a highly contentious provision in the law and so:
The Government will introduce legislation to put in place transitional measures that uphold council decisions to establish Māori wards or constituencies, Local Government Minister Hon Nanaia Mahuta today announced.
Hmm. Let’s see if we understand what this champion of democracy believes.
It’s okay for her to overturn a council elected by a city’s citizens.
It’s not okay for citizens to use current legislative arrangements to muster support for a referendum which might overturn a council decision on the constitutionally vital matter of how their electoral system is organised and councillors are elected.
Mahuta said she was making this change at the behest of Local Government NZ.
“Local Government has asked the Government to change the law to allow local council decisions to establish local wards to stand. The current system has a different set of rules for establishing Māori and general wards and that uneven playing field needs to change,” Nanaia Mahuta said.
“The process of establishing a ward should be the same for both Māori and general wards.”
Yes, the rules do differ. So why not make it as difficult to establish a general ward as it is to establish a Maori ward?
Mahuta went on:
“These are decisions for democratically elected councils, who are accountable to the public every three years.”
Yes, they are accountable to the public every three years. But Mahuta was unwilling to allow Tauranga citizens to wait until the next election to sort out the problems of their fractured council.
Her statement continued:
“Polls have proven to be an almost insurmountable barrier to councils trying to improve the democratic representation of Māori interests. This process is fundamentally unfair to Māori.
“Increasing Māori representation is essential to ensuring equity in representation and to provide a Māori voice in local decision making. It will also lead to greater Māori participation in the resource management process,” Nanaia Mahuta said.
More to the point of the politicking in which Mahuta is engaged, Māori made up just under 20% of all sitting MPs in the House of Representatives after the 2020 general election, with 23 out of 120 MPs with Māori ancestry. Fourteen of Labour’s 64 MPs (22%) are Maori and they are keen to hold on to the five Maori seats they won.
This is not so much about “ensuring equity in representation” and more about “Treaty” politics to win and secure Maori votes.
The Green Party is similarly Treaty-focused. Its Māori Development spokesperson, Elizabeth Kerekere, issued a statement which brays A win for Māori wards across Aotearoa New Zealand
The Green Party welcomes the Government’s position to support the representation of Māori in councils.
“We will support any kaupapa that brings Māori to a decision-making table”, says Green Party Māori Development spokesperson Dr Elizabeth Kerekere.
Is she serious in implying that Maori are not represented at council decision-making tables? Increasingly in recent years Maori have been APPOINTED to such posts, avoiding the need to campaign for votes as councillors must do.
And let’s not forget that a member of Tauranga City Council’s tangata whenua committee celebrated Mahuta’s decision that the council had become toxic and had to be sacked.
Oh – and take a note of this from Kerekere:
“In the Tairāwhiti the Gisborne District Council recently passed a resolution to form Māori wards, acknowledging that nearly 52% of the population in Tairāwhiti identify as being Māori.”
In other words, the Maori who account for more than half the population of Tairāwhiti can’t muster enough votes to ensure sufficient representation on the council.
But there’s no suggestion Labour and the Greens want to cite percentages and apply the same reasoning for all ethnic groups.
This is about the Treaty (and modern claims about what its three clauses mean for electoral systems).
“We know the importance of diversity around the council table and, as part of the Government’s commitment to working to honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi, we need to do our part to enable councils to achieve fair representation. Like in Parliamentary elections, specific Māori seats can assist with this” .
But will Mahuta be making the case for race-based wards – let’s say – in Auckland to ensure Asian representation?
At the 2018 Census there were 442,671 usual residents in Auckland who identified with an Asian ethnicity (28.2% of Auckland’s population). This was an increase of 44.1% since the 2013 Census.
The Asian population has grown more rapidly than the wider Auckland population.
Nation-wide, the majority of New Zealand’s population is of European descent (70 percent). Māori are only marginally the largest minority (16.5 percent) followed by Asians (15.3 percent).
But let’s get back to the proposed reforms that won’t make too much of the strength of Asian numbers.
“Māori and non-Māori across New Zealand have been calling for these changes for some time, including the recent presentation of two petitions with more than 11,000 signatures to Parliament,” Nanaia Mahuta said.
She could put this claim to the test by holding a nation-wide referendum on support for Maori wards in local government.
She won’t do that and will reform the process for establishing Māori wards in two legislative stages over the next three years.
The first stage will make immediate changes to establish transitional measures for the 2022 local elections. The second stage will develop a permanent mechanism for local authorities to consider the establishment of Māori wards and constituencies.
A Government Bill will be available to review shortly.
Background notes accompanying Mahuta’s statement included data showing that since 2002, 24 councils have attempted to establish Māori wards using the process under the Local Electoral Act 2001 and only two have been successful so far.
Nine councils have decided to establish Māori wards for the 2022 local elections, joining three councils who established these at earlier elections. The Government will support these councils’ decisions to improve Māori representation.
The new legislation will also extend the deadline for councils to consider Māori wards to 21 May 2021, providing them with a fresh opportunity to make decisions on Māori representation at the 2022 local elections.
In her other statement yesterday, Mahuta said New Zealand is deeply concerned by the military’s seizure of power in Myanmar.
New Zealand is a long-standing supporter of Myanmar’s democratic transition.
We call for the swift release of all those political actors detained, including State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint, and for a rapid return to civilian rule.
An election has taken place and the democratic will of the people must be respected. We confirm our support for Myanmar’s democratic institutions and the rule of law.
Carmel Sepuloni, Minister of Arts, culture and Heritage, had Treaty considerations in mind when she announced community events from Northland to Southland and from the West Coast to the Chatham Islands will draw people together to commemorate Waitangi Day.
“Thirty-four grants totalling $288,000 have gone to organisations throughout Aotearoa to support events commemorating the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and celebrate its importance to who we are as a nation,” Carmel Sepuloni said.
“The grants have been awarded for events promoting nation and community building and those encouraging wide community participation and cultural experience.
“From workshops on Te Tiriti and whānau-oriented marae days to performance and children’s activities these nationwide events will deepen our understanding of Te Tiriti.”
The Ministry for Culture and Heritage has a full list of 2021 funded events here.
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Bob Edlin is a veteran journalist and editor for the Point of Order blog HERE.