Friday, April 15, 2022

Point of Order: Local Govt Commission over-rides Rotorua’s undemocratic voting model – but what will Labour-majority Parliament do?

Kiwiblog today reports that the Local Government Commission has completed a determination for Rotorua which will result in three Māori Ward Councillors being elected, but without sacrificing equality of suffrage.

As Kiwiblog tells us, 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.

This means the commission has rejected Rotorua Lakes Council’s model which comprised one Māori ward seat, one general ward seat and eight at-large seats.

To implement the council model, special legislation has been introduced to Parliament to over-ride requirements of the Local Elections Act.

The local bill, the Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill, passed its first reading in Parliament last week and is being examined by a Parliamentary select committee.

Not the Governance and Administration Committee which looks at business related to local government, it should be noted.

At the bill’s first reading, Parliament (or rather, Labour, the Greens and the Maori Party) voted to refer it to the Māori Affairs Committee which looks at business related to Māori affairs and Treaty of Waitangi negotiations.

This committee is chaired by Labour list MP Tamati Coffey who is zealously sponsoring the bill.

According to Kiwiblog’s David Farrar, the commission’s determination means the bill is no longer needed,

… unless the aim of the Government isn’t to ensure there are three Maori Ward Councillors, but to take away equal suffrage from all other residents of Rotorua.

But Point of Order reckons it’s a good bet that removing equal suffrage from all other residents of the city is exactly what is intended. This would set a model for all other councils which abandons the principle that all votes should carry equal weight.

It should come as no surprise that the Local Government Commission’s decision is unacceptable to some Rotorua councillors.

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said the decision makes it “now even more important” that the bill to change electoral rules for Rotorua was passed into law.

Councillor Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said the commission “didn’t understand the issues or thought Rotorua voters couldn’t care less about not using their maximum number of votes” and described the decision as “plainly ridiculous”.

Rotorua Residents and Ratepayers chairman and sitting councillor Reynold Macpherson, on the other hand, was one of the appellants of the council’s decision to the Local Government Commission.

He said the group applauded the Commission’s decision because it was “based on democratic principles” and the Local Electoral Act, and it “rejected the council’s interim co-governance model in favour of proportional representation”.

“The danger now is that the local bill … could take Rotorua back to [the] council’s ideal co-governance model, unless it is withdrawn, defeated or fails to make the June 1 deadline.”

He urged residents and ratepayers to make submissions to the select committee and ask for equal suffrage for all citizens – “one person, one vote, one value – and proportional representation from wards.”

David Farrar commented that the Local Government Commission should be congratulated for setting a structure that provides for three Māori Ward Councillors, but retains equality of suffrage.

“It would now be even more outrageous and unprincipled for Labour and Greens to proceed with an urgent law change to over-ride the law and set wards where people in a general ward have only 39% of the voting power of people in a Māori ward.”

The LGC decision provides for three Māori Ward Councillors, Farrar noted, but it ets rid of the “at large” Councillors, basically providing that only people on the General Roll can vote for the other seven Councillors.

“ This means the fundamental human right of equality of suffrage is retained.

“The bill is now obsolete, unless the real purpose of the law change isn’t to ensure there are three Māori Ward Councillors, but to take away votes from the rest of the community.

“If you have yet to make a submission on the bill, you can do so here. I recommend that you refer to the LGC decision in your submission and how it means that the Select Committee can now recommend the bill not proceed as it is trying to fix a problem that no longer exists.

Point of Order checked out the Local Government Commission’s determination.

We found some fascinating nuggets of information.

For example. Maori – by the looks of it – already make up 36 per cent of the council of one mayor and 10 councillors.

“The Council noted that there were currently four Māori members on the Council, all of whom had been elected at large under the current representation arrangements.”

This perhaps explains why a co-governance model has so much support.

Oh – and it looks like there is support among some Rotorua locals for the idea that Maori representatives should make up half the council’s membership:

“At the hearing we heard from Te Tatau o Te Arawa that equity and fairness should result in the Māori voice being amplified at the Council table. While Te Tatau o Te Arawa acknowledged that a Council with an overall equal number of Māori and general ward members would have been the ideal outcome, this was not possible under the formula in Schedule 1A to the Act and that three Māori ward members was instead the preferred outcome…”

The Local Government Commission’s reasoning is worth reading:

“We have confirmed that there should be an overall Council of 10 members plus the mayor, and that the Māori ward should be represented by three members. The next question for us to consider is how the remaining seven seats should be allocated.

In particular, we need to consider whether there should be a single district-wide general ward of seven members or whether there should be a separate rural ward. We also need to consider whether representation should be by ward-only, or whether a mixed representation model including a single at-large member is appropriate…”

It decided a single-member rural ward will result in more effective representation for the rural community of interest than would be provided by a district-wide general ward.

The boundaries should align with the Rotorua Rural Community Board.

“Accordingly, we uphold that there should be three wards for the Rotorua District, being a district-wide Māori Ward electing three members, a rural general ward corresponding to the boundaries of the Rotorua Rural Community Board electing one member, and a general ward corresponding to the remainder of the district (the urban Rotorua and Lakes areas) electing six members.

Because a council of 10 members plus the mayor was considered to be an appropriate size for the council, the commission concluded that the representation model for the council should be adjusted to be a ward-only representation model rather than a mixed-model representation system.

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

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