Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Minister of Local Government): Yes, and I want to thank the Māori Affairs Committee for the work they undertook during a truncated select committee process to engage the public. I'm informed that there were 12,508 written submissions, 9,703 of which were template style; and 2,805 unique submissions, two-thirds of which were supportive of the bill.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does a consultation process of submissions being opened one day and closed the next meet her definition of "thorough consultation"?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: I note that many submitters during that period of time identified that while the submission process was short, it was long overdue. Let me take, for example, Jill Day, a Wellington city councillor, who said, "The next election is actually looming faster than we can all imagine and we want to make sure we can make this change in time. One of the things I was really excited about was the announcement that there's been an extension so that we, as a council, can revisit the decision from last year. Otherwise we have to wait another three years." So there's actual genuine urgency with this.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How could she, or any MP on the select committee, read the submissions on the bill in the timetable she requested, when it would require reading a submission every minute—and I'm only referring to the unique submissions; a submission per minute—without any sleep for three days?
SPEAKER: Order! The member can refer to her own reading; she's not responsible for the reading speeds of select committee members.
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Mr Speaker, let me respond. From my observation of this select committee, there were very diligent members who participated and engaged with the views of the public, irrespective of what view they held.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Did she or anyone from her office or department give supporters of her bill advanced notice, ahead of the general public, of the exceptionally short select committee process?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: In terms of the issue, this matter has been in the public domain for a long time. Many submitters referred to the campaigns in relation to the Māori wards matter in their specific councils, and, indeed, some said this conversation has been around for at least six years.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very narrow: did she or anyone from her office or department give supporters of the bill advanced notice of the exceptionally short select committee process? She did not address that question.
SPEAKER: The member will address the question.
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Once the bill was tabled in the House, everybody knew about the submission time, in the manner that the Māori Affairs Committee had promoted. I made it very clear that the pending changes were in line with the public discourse that had been out in the public domain for at least the last six years.
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern: Can the Minister confirm that Local Government New Zealand had been lobbying for this change for some time, had been in direct contact with you about seeking a change, and were also very clear about the limited time frame for such a change to be enacted, before they would have to go through a process of referendum—so would have known that it would have been coming in a short time frame?
Chris Bishop: Point or order, Mr Speaker.
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Yes, yes, yes, and yes.
SPEAKER: Sorry, a point of order, Chris Bishop.
Chris Bishop: There were at least three legs to that supplementary question from the Prime Minister to the Minister there. You have consistently ruled that we are not allowed to ask more than two in a supplementary.
SPEAKER: I take the admonition of the member. The member will answer not more than two of the three legs.
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Yes and yes.
Teanau Tuiono: Can the Minister confirm that the reason for her sense of urgency to pass this bill is an urgency to overturn a breach of Te Tiriti o Waitangi before the 2022 local elections?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Yes, and, as I had explained in previous questions in the House, this is a short-term fix to enable a discriminatory provision to be removed from legislation in time for the 2022 elections.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Was it fair for councils supporting the bill to be advised on Friday, 5 February that it would be read for a first time on the following Tuesday and that the select committee process would be "exceptionally short", thus giving those councils six days as compared with one day's notice for the public?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Several of the councils who were prepared for this process actually lobbied—
Chris Bishop: Outrageous!
Hon Grant Robertson: Calm down, Chris.
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: —to ensure—
SPEAKER: Order! The advice might be sage but it's out of order. The member will stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Hon Grant Robertson: I withdraw and apologise.
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Several of the councils who were prepared for the submission process were aware that there was a pending legislative obligation to hold a referendum. They were concerned about the cost. So they were ready for a process that engaged them, and, can I just reiterate, the conversation amongst many of those councils who were supportive have been around for a very, very long time.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does she agree with the statements today in Stuff from former Department of Internal Affairs senior local government advisor Mr Gavin Beattie that some of the statements made by the Minister needed to be corrected, notably that the 2002 law was racist and that the Māori wards should be considered the same as general wards, and will she now apologise for those errors?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: That member is selective with his quote. What I do agree with is that in the article that's being referred to, the time that Māori wards were introduced into legislation is the same time as the provisions of the single transferable vote to be introduced into legislation—that a poll be applied. I stand by my voting record on this particular issue. I think it was a progression—obviously not far enough to deliver the outcome, and that's why we're coming back to the issue of removing a discriminatory clause in legislation.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why has she stated that her bill provides the same process for creating Māori wards as general wards when the process for general wards requires public notification, submissions, hearings, and appeal rights, where none of these are required in her bill for Māori wards?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: The bill will remove the discriminatory provision of a 5 percent referendum. The way in which the Māori wards will be decided will stay the same. This will be to ensure that we can implement these changes in time for the 2022 election. The longest stage-two term fix, as I indicated in the legislative statement, will be a matter that will go to full consultation, both the policy process and the select committee process, at the end of this year.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will councils, under her amended law, have the legal authority in future to disestablish Māori wards once established, if they wish, as they can do with general wards?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Yes. As I have said, removing the discriminatory provision will still enable councils to put the resolution without the prospect of a poll overturning their resolution. They have up until 21 May to either put the resolution for those councils who have not yet done so or overturn that resolution. But I much rather suspect, from the many submissions that were in favour of this bill, that many—several—councils see this as a positive part of our democracy to include Māori wards.
All Parliamentary debates are recorded in Hansard - see HERE.