Not when Mahuta wants to make it mandatory to consider more Māori wards
When Nanaia Mahuta talks about improving local government processes, alarm bells should ring.
In a statement earlier this week, the Minister of Local Government said improvements to processes for electing councils at the next local government elections in 2025 have been introduced to Parliament in a measure called the Local Government Electoral Legislation Bill.
The legislation covers decisions about Māori wards, the number of councillors at Auckland Council, more consistent rules for a coin toss if an election result is tied, and filing nominations electronically, amongst other issues.
“The overall objective for the changes is to improve the processes for individuals and communities to participate and be represented in local elections,” said Nanaia Mahuta.
“The Local Government Electoral Legislation Bill brings together a range of diverse issues for improvements as an omnibus piece of legislation. It picks up recommendations that followed inquiries into the local elections in 2016 and 2019.”
Mahuta had a bit more to say about Māori wards.
“Councils have been able to create Māori wards to improve Māori representation for twenty years, but the option was underutilised until Parliament removed the barrier of the binding poll provision last year. This legislation is the second stage of improvements.
“Under the proposed changes, when councils undertake their regular Representation Review every six years, the first step must be a decision about whether to establish Māori wards or constituencies. Currently there is no obligation to consider Māori wards at all.
“There is no requirement in the bill that councils should have Māori wards. However, in order to do what is right for their communities the issue should at least be discussed at the council table, rather than councils avoiding the topic altogether.
“Thirty-five councils will have Māori wards or constituencies in the 2022 elections: twenty-nine territorial councils and six regional councils. The councillors are elected by voters on the Māori roll.”
Other changes remove the cap of 20 elected representatives at Auckland Council, to reflect the city’s growing population and allow for potential Māori wards. The limit of 20 is inconsistent with other councils, who can have between five and 29 councillors.
“The bill also makes it easier for Auckland Council and other unitary authorities to change the boundaries of local boards without necessarily having to go through the full reorganisation process which can take several years.”
The legislation clarifies processes around judicial recounts after three disputed results at the 2019 elections, in Whakatane, Wellington, and Queenstown Lakes councils.
“The changes require a mandatory judicial recount, paid for by the Council, when election results are tied. Candidates who are still tied after the recount may choose a tie-break option like a coin-toss. A candidate can also choose to withdraw at this point to avoid their fate being determined by coin toss. Affected councillors cannot be sworn in before the recount.
“The bill also modernises processes around nominations, so that electoral officers can specify forms for submitting nominations, including electronically.”
The bill will shortly open for public submissions. It is anticipated it will pass into law by early 2023 to give councils time to prepare for the new processes before the 2025 elections, Mahuta said.
The ACT Party has expressed its concerns about the requirement for local authorities to consider adding Māori wards or constituencies.
Leader David Seymour told Heather du Plessis-Allan the bill doesn’t sit right with him.
He says councils will feel pressured to implement them even if they don’t want to.
Du Plessis-Allan agrees with him.
She described the Bill as “a clever move” by Mahuta to try to essentially force Māori wards on councils, or at least make it very hard for councils to resist introducing Māori wards.
“Mahuta has slipped a change into a piece of legislation that will make it mandatory for councils every six years to consider whether they should introduce Māori wards.
“When they meet for their six-yearly Representation Review, the first step councils must take must be a decision about whether to establish Māori wards or constituencies.
“That makes it very likely, doesn’t it, that a lot of councils will opt to introduce Māori wards. Because if they consider the wards and then actively choose not to introduce them, what are they?
No one wants to be called a racist so they’ll probably just take the easy option and introduce the Māori wards.
What’s more, du Plessis-Allan said, because Mahuta popped these changes into an omnibus piece of law with a whole bunch of other boring, technical changes for local elections, most people seem to have totally missed it.
“In fact, from what I can see, no one’s reported on it in the 26+ hours since she put out her press release.”
Mahuta is forcing something on ratepayers that ratepayers don’t want, but can’t stop, du Plessis-Allan contended.
“Māori wards are historically deeply unpopular. In the nearly two decades since 2002, 24 councils tried to introduce Māori wards and only two ended up being successful.
“For example, Taranaki: their attempt in 2015 ended up voted down by 83 percent of ratepayers.
“But Nanaia’s now changed the environment so substantially that it feels like Māori wards are now more likely than not.”
Du Plessis Allan recalled that last year Mahuta took away ratepayers’ right to have referenda on Māori wards. Now, 35 councils will have Māori wards or constituencies at this year’s election.
“You can say a lot of disparaging things about Nanaia Mahuta but what you have concede is that when it comes to really applying herself to undermining democracy, she can be very strategic and clever.”
The Bill hasn’t passed the notice of New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.
He said Mahuta’s move to make it mandatory for councils to consider introducing Māori Wards is unconstitutional
“… and depicts a seismic shift in our democracy.”
His party will campaign to repeal this legislation.
He echoed observations that have been made many times before on this blog:
“New Zealanders need to understand that Labour is now removing our country’s democracy by stealth – and clearly they don’t care about the stealth.
“They first took the citizens-initiated referendum away from local voters deciding if they wanted Māori Wards on their council, now they intend to dictate that councils will have it on their agenda.
“This is deliberately designed to force local representatives to publicly discuss and decide on the topics that Labour want them to discuss.
“What is inevitable, is the vitriol from the cancel culture elite if councils decide not to include Māori Wards.”
Labour’s separatist agenda had become so overt it should frighten every New Zealander who cares about the future of our democracy, Peters said.
Point of Order is a blog focused on politics and the economy run by veteran newspaper reporters Bob Edlin and Ian Templeton