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.
Newman, a writer and investment analyst, is a former local body councillor.