Saturday, April 30, 2022

Point of Order: The legality of the mayor’s secrecy motion has gone unquestioned

Malcolm Harbrow, an admirably dogged campaigner against governmental secrecy on his No Right Turn blog, has drawn attention to something the mainstream media missed.

He has focused on the legality of Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick’s actions at a stormy meeting of the Rotorua Lakes Council.

RNZ is among the media which reported on the meeting, where a motion to move into confidential session over the controversial Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill triggered a a councillor’s immediate resignation.

No Right Turn has provided a link to the council’s livestream recording of the meeting (from 4:15 to 8:15), so we can see for ourselves what happened.

It then notes that RNZ‘s focus is on the resignation, but something has been missed – the mayor’s secrecy motion:

At a full council meeting today, Chadwick moved to include a discussion about the Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill into a confidential section of the meeting.

She said it was to “enable us all as council, together, to have a free and frank discussion in response to the attorney general’s request for further information needed to develop policy work”.

The problem? No Right Turn explains that…

“free and frank discussion” is not a lawful reason to exclude the public from a local authority meeting.

In fact, it is specifically excluded by s48(1)(a)(i) of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 (s7(2)(f)(i) is the LGOIMA’s “free and frank” withholding ground).

The mayor should know this. The councillors should know it. The council staff responsible for running the meeting should know it. The fact that none of them did, or saw fit to mention it raises serious doubts about the competence of the council, and their knowledge of the laws they operate under. Its also concerning that RNZ’s local democracy reporter failed to pick up on this, since you’d expect them to be familiar with LGOIMA. But I guess “councillor resigns” was a bigger story than “mayor illegally seeks secrecy and unaccountability”.

The legality of the mayor’s autocratic ruling is one of several issues raised by the council’s handling of the Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill which – according to Attorney General David Parker’s’s examination of its ill-considered contents – would breach the Bill of Rights Act, although he further said more information may be needed for a full assessment.

In his report for Stuff, Glenn McConnell noted that the main point of contention came from the population sizes of Rotorua’s general and Māori electorates. The general roll has 55,600 voters, more than double the number of 21,700 voters on the Māori roll.

Parker didn’t have to be a mathematical genius to figure that the Māori wards (returning three councillors) would have “disproportionately higher” representation than general roll voters (also returning three councillors).

Four more councillors and the mayor would be elected by the voters at large.

Meanwhile the Local Government Commission had completed a determination for Rotorua which would result in three Māori Ward Councillors being elected, but without sacrificing equality of suffrage.

The commission favours –

* An urban general ward – 48,410 people elect six councillors – 8,068 population per councillor.

* A Māori ward – 21,700 people elect three councillors – 7,233 population per councillor.

* A rural general ward – 7,200 people elect one councillor – 7,200 population per councillor.

Adopting this would rule out the need for the special legislation which the Rotorua council sought to over-ride requirements of the Local Elections Act.

But the council has not abandoned the bill and its discriminatory voting model, which raises the questions: why not – and what’s wrong with the Local Government Commission’s model?

According to Waatea News:

Labour list MP Tamati Coffey says there’s still room to salvage a bill creating a unique voting system for Rotorua Lakes Council.

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick said yesterday the council will ask the Māori Affairs Select Committee to pause work on the Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill so it can work with parliamentary and government advisors to get it right.

Coffey – who is sponsoring the bill – says the make-up of the council needs to reflect the partnership it has formed with Te Arawa.

“We’ve opened a bit of a can of worms because there have been some inconsistencies found in the Local Electoral Act. The council has said ‘we want you to look at this. We don’t believe this is fair when it comes to our treaty partnership that we want to uphold here in Rotorua.’ So you’ve got to keep asking questions. Is it just the Bill of Rights or do we need to have a bit of a treaty conversation on what this looks like as well?” he says.

Another question relates to the way the Rotorua bill has been steered from the council to Parliament and then on to a select committee.

Not only has Tāmati Coffey sponsored the bill on behalf of the Rotorua District Council; he has also steered it to the Maori Affairs Commitee (which deals with Maori and Treaty issues) rather than the Governance and Administration Committee (which deals with local government issues).

The committee is chaired by the same Tamati Coffey.

Former Labour Minister Richard Prebble has picked up on this:

To avoid local bills being party politics the convention is the MP representing the headquarters of a local body is always in charge of a local bill. As MP for Auckland Central I have introduced more local bills than any MP currently in parliament.

If I had been asked to present this bill I would have advised it is an abuse of parliament’s procedure to seek to change our constitution by way of a local bill. If the council insisted, I would have presented the bill, set out the council’s case and then recommended parliament reject the bill.

At the urging of the Mayor, Steve Chadwick, a former Labour MP, the Council bypassed the local MP Hon Todd McClay and asked Tamati Coffey, a Labour list MP to be in charge of the bill. Mr Coffey was defeated by the locals. He represents the Labour party in parliament and not Rotorua.

Prebble says Coffey was abusing his power as the member in charge to nominate the Maori Affairs Committee which he chairs.

Waiariki​ MP and Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi – who says he will continue to support the bill – has raised questions, too.

What is “caucasity”?

And what is equality?

Waititi hit out at Parker’s “caucasity” to criticise the bill which he said was a step towards “equality” at council.

Point of Order found this definition:

Caucasity means ..

Caucacity is about behaving in a manner that disregards or refuses to acknowledge one’s white privilege.

And the meaning of equality?

According to Waititi, it means 21,700 Maori voters = 55,600 general roll voters (some of whom may be Maori).

Oh, and let’s note that this blog should be careful when we use the word “discrimination” because Waititi further said:

“Pākehā should stay away from using the term ‘discrimination’, especially when it comes to Māori seeking equality when it comes to representation in their own country.”

But Māori may use the word – we imagine – should non-Māori campaign to preserve equality when it comes to representation in their own country.

Point of Order is a blog focused on politics and the economy run by veteran newspaper reporters Bob Edlin and Ian Templeton.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

why is a 'list' MP allowed to propose a law that impacts a specific constituency? should this 'right' not be restricted to the 'elected' MP of that population? if people of rotorua find that this 'list' MP's actions are unacceptable, how can they hold him accountable? since they didn't vote him in, they can't vote him out! something really stinks here :(