The Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill has not even passed into law yet and Māori are calling for the number of Māori seats on local councils to be increased.
The Northland Regional Council's Te Tai Tokerau Māori and Council Working Party says the Regional Council should not have not one but three seats on the Council, and that "would be a good start on a journey of incremental change", says the group co-chairman Pita Tipene as reported in the Northern Age (18 February). These are seats reserved for Māori, elected only by Māori.
If it is the start on a journey of incremental change then the Northland Regional Council should tell citizens where that journey will end. It's important, because the public should know, they deserve to know, and it's their right to know.
Without clarity we can only speculate how many seats Māori activists would be satisfied with. What we do know is that Māori advocates will not stop and one, two, or three seats on local councils. Pita Tipene and others have said that. There is already growing commentary from pro-Māori ward supporters wanting half the seats because, they say, Māori are treaty partners.
Our local councillors should be upfront if they share that view, and they should be up front about the implications. To date our mayors and councillors have said nothing or very little.
This is what we do know about the Māori seats. They will be for Māori only; elected by those on the Māori Roll (about half of Māori are registered on the Māori Roll).
We know that Māori who stand in a general ward have a good chance of being elected. Currently 13.5 per cent of local body councillors identify as being Māori, which is consistent with the 2018 census showing Māori as 13.7 per cent of the adult population.
We therefore know those with iwi affiliation will occupy all of the Māori seats and most likely some of the general seats; and there will be some councillors who do not have iwi affiliations but nevertheless take a view favourable to Māori.
Under a 50:50 "partnership" model Maori will have effective control over billions of dollars worth of public assets, hundreds of millions of dollars of annual rating revenue, and all of the decision making powers of their local authority. That includes the power to set differential rating, write planning rules, allocate grants, set tendering policies and select contractors, prioritise the works programme and set the capital spending budget, council's staffing policy, and so on.
A person would have to very naive or myopic not to be concerned that this is not going to end well for anyone other than Māori. What's worse, those on the general roll, who will potentially be most adversely affected, will be powerless to do anything about it. They will not be able to vote the Māori ward councillors out of office because only those on the Māori roll vote them in.
Is this the pathway that Pita Tipene refers to when he says we are on the journey of incremental change? Is this the pathway the Northland Regional Council, and the other councils proposing Māori wards, are taking us down?
The Northland Regional Council concluded its submission to Parliament on The Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill with the following:
Kua tawhiti kē tō haerenga mai, kia kore e haere tonu. He tino nui rawa o ōu mahi, kia kore e mahi nui tonu.
You have come too far, not to go further. You have done too much, not to do more.
Tā Hemi Henare (Ngāti Hine, 1989)
It's time councillors broke their silence and addressed the concerns of the many thousands of people who signed the petitions calling on the councils to hold a binding referendum about Māori wards. People have a right to know which garden path they are being led down.
Frank Newman, a writer and investment analyst, is a former local body councillor.