The local elections sent the Prime Minister and her Labour Party a message: “We don’t want you anymore”.
The resounding defeat of the two Labour mayoral contenders she had publicly backed – Efeso Collins in Auckland and sitting MP Paul Eagle in Wellington – demonstrated only too clearly how the PM’s endorsement has turned into a ‘kiss of death’ for candidates.
This ‘swing to the right’ across the country is bad news for the Labour Party’s 2023 election chances. The results mirrored what the polls have been saying for some time now – that the electorate has fallen out of love with Jacinda Ardern. They are now treating her with the contempt she deserves. Not only has she undermined democracy by inflicting her unmandated tribal rule agenda onto the country, but ‘trust’ in her Government has evaporated as almost everything she touches turns into failure.
Her excessive spending has contributed to a cost of living crisis. Her welfare and immigration policy failures have created a critical shortage of workers. Her centralisation of the health and polytech sectors to deliver control to the iwi elite has been a disaster. And now as a result of her narcissistic desire to be seen to be leading the world on climate change, she appears intent on ruining New Zealand’s crucial farming sector through her obsessive ‘zero carbon’ fanaticism.
It must surely be only a matter of time before she heads off to take up a position within the World Economic Forum or the United Nations, leaving the mess she and her comrades have created for others to clean up. Her tenure will be remembered as a failed experiment in modern socialism.
This year’s local elections were also notable for the continued slide in voter turnout.
What we do know is a range of factors contribute to good voter turnout – namely communities with a higher medium age, more home ownership, and a smaller population base are likely to become more engaged with local councils and vote. But one also wonders whether Labour’s divisive policies, continual lies, and sham public consultations has contributed to people switching off local body politics and politicians.
Firstly a reminder that in the lead up to the 2020 General Election, the Prime Minister campaigned on a Labour Party manifesto promise of strengthening local government democracy and community engagement: “Labour will uphold local decision making in the democratic institutions of local government” and “Labour will ensure that major decisions about local democracy involve full participation of the local population from the outset”.
Those promises turned out to be lies.
Barely three weeks into Parliament’s sitting programme following Labour’s outright victory in the October election, the Prime Minister authorised the Local Electoral (Maori Wards and Maori Constituencies) Amendment Bill to abolish the local democratic right of communities to oppose Maori wards.
At the time, almost a dozen councils had decided to establish Maori wards without consulting their communities. Since most New Zealanders do not want to be divided by race, petitions had been launched to force the councils to hold binding referenda, so local residents and ratepayers could have a say.
Labour’s plan to prevent the public opposing Maori wards was not signalled before the election.
The Herald’s Chief Political Reporter Audrey Young was scathing about this deceit: “The Government has made a strong case for abolishing local voters’ ability to overturn a council’s decision to establish a Maori ward. So it is unforgivable that Labour did not put it in its 2020 election manifesto. Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta foreshadowed the move in November, within weeks of the October election. It was clearly on Labour’s agenda all along. It may be a divisive issue but there is no excuse for Labour having hidden it at the election.”
In true dictatorial fashion, Prime Minister Ardern abolished these important local government democratic rights under urgency, with no prior consultation. Retrospective provisions were included that cancelled petitions that had been supported by tens of thousands of New Zealanders up and down the country demanding councils hold referenda on Maori wards.
The Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta justified the Bill on the basis that Maori were underrepresented in local government, saying they faced “an almost insurmountable barrier” to getting elected.
That too was a lie.
A survey by Local Government New Zealand carried out in October 2020 showed that the proportion of Maori elected to local authorities was 13.5 percent – almost exactly the same as the 2018 census, which showed Maori as 13.7 percent of the adult population.
In other words, there was no under representation – Maori have always been quite capable of getting elected onto councils themselves.
The Maori ward petition rights that Jacinda Ardern abolished had been introduced into law by Helen Clark’s Labour Government in 2002 as a constitutional safeguard to protect the voting system.
In any democracy, the voting system is sacrosanct, and the Westminster Parliamentary tradition demands additional safeguards when electoral law changes are being proposed to prevent any manipulation by those in power.
That safeguard took the form of Section 19ZB petition rights in the Local Electoral Act. Ratepayers could challenge any council decision that altered the voting system if 5 percent of voters supported a petition calling for a binding referendum. The community then had the final say over whether or not to support the council’s decision.
Two such safeguards were identified. The first was over decisions to change the voting system between First Past the Post and Single Transferable Voting. And the second was over the introduction of Maori wards since that meant using the Maori roll and the General roll instead of the combined electoral roll.
Ignoring those facts, Minister Mahuta claimed, “The current system has a different set of rules for establishing Maori and general wards and that uneven playing field needs to change. The process of establishing a ward should be the same for both Maori and general wards.”
This deliberate misrepresentation was designed to imply the system discriminated against Maori when it did not.
In reality, those arguments were just a smokescreen to justify the introduction of Maori wards around the country as swiftly as possible. Minister Mahuta and her Maori caucus colleagues no doubt saw the move as a way to create a permanent shift in the balance of power within local government towards Maori.
As a result of the law change, the number of local authorities with Maori wards increased from three in 2019 to 35 in 2022.
But as this week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, financial analyst and former councillor Frank Newman explains, there are ominous implications in the results:
“The biggest winners from the local body elections are: Nanaia Mahuta and the Maori Party!
“Nanaia Mahuta has achieved exactly what she set out to achieve, and that is a much stronger presence of Maori around the local council decision making table. It’s a giant leap forward towards co-governance at a local level. There should be no doubt she had that intention when Parliament passed retrospective legislation under urgency to repeal the binding referendum right granted to electors under Section 19ZB of the Local Electoral Act.”
Frank explains that as a result of an anomaly, whereby the number of Maori wards is based on the number of people who identify as Maori in a local authority district not on the numbers registered on the Maori roll, 66 Maori ward councillors have now been elected around the country.
While four of those new councillors acknowledged Maori Party affiliation, others with equally strong views have also been elected – like the wife of former Maori Party MP Hone Harawira, who is now one of the four Maori ward councillors on the Far North District Council.
That Council will no doubt become a test case to see whether it puts the interests of Maori first, or those of the whole Far North district, since it now has a Maori mayor – who also stood as a Maori ward candidate – and a majority of councillors who identify as Maori.
Frank warns, “Let’s not under-estimate the uncertainties of a vested interest group controlling a local authority. That group now control rates and will have the absolute say on how much property owners will be rated in the future. They also have absolute control of how those funds will be spent, including how much will be for the direct benefit of Maori. They will decide council debt levels. They will control planning rules – what you can build and where and who must give their approval before you can do so. They will dictate whether iwi consent will be required, and which iwi. They will decide the spending on infrastructure, and which projects get priority. They will consider the legal issues surrounding tikanga, and the role of tikanga in property law and compliance issues.
“These are critical questions, and more so given non-Maori are powerless to have a say.”
When she removed Section 19ZB petition rights, Jacinda Ardern crushed local democracy and opened the door for the tribal takeover of local government.
But that’s not all.
Labour also supported the anti-democratic Rotorua District Council’s co-governance Bill that would have given Maori roll voters almost five times the voting power of voters on the General Roll – that is until a public outcry forced a backdown.
There was no backdown, however over another anti-democratic Bill that Labour passed into law – one that created a ruling class of elite iwi, by guaranteeing Ngai Tahu a permanent power base of two seats on the Canterbury Regional Council without having to be elected!
The Prime Minister’s anti-democratic Maori-control agenda is also being progressed through her despised Three Waters Bill.
For residents and ratepayers, the impact will be profound. From funding, owning, and controlling local water infrastructure and service delivery through their democratically elected councils, not only are their assets being confiscated without fair compensation, but their power of control is being transferred to Maori.
A disinformation campaign built on a litany of lies and misrepresentations was again used by the Ardern Government to promote the need for reform.
They claimed that water quality in New Zealand was so dangerous that a new Water Services Regulator was needed, even though water quality audits and surveillance reports by the Ministry of Health and the Institute of Environmental Science and Research showed excellent results.
A powerful Maori Advisory Board was set up to advise the new Regulator, with Minister Mahuta’s sister Tipa Mahuta appointed as chair.
New higher water quality standards were then used to justify the creation of four mega Water Entities to deliver water services, with iwi given the right of veto through the allocation of half of the seats on the Regional Representation Groups.
The Water Entity Boards that will run the region’s water services must be “adequately competent both as a Treaty partner, and with expertise in accessing matauranga Maori, tikanga Maori and Te Ao Maori knowledge to inform the water entities activities.”
And at a local level, only iwi have been given the power to issue “Te Mana o te Wai” directives to Water Entity Boards that cannot be ignored – covering everything from land use, planning rules and regulations, pipes, rivers, creeks, farm ponds, or any other fresh water body or infrastructure.
Furthermore, the Prime Minister deliberately prevented councils from fulfilling their statutory democratic obligation to consult with their communities over these planned changes – even including such restrictions in the new legislation.
And so it goes on.
It is utter hypocrisy for the Prime Minister to say she wants the public to participate in their local elections when it is she who is undermining the public’s confidence in democracy itself.
Let’s not forget the agenda of the PM and her Maori caucus is far from complete. We know from He Puapua that the goal is to have Maori in control of New Zealand by 2040. In 2022 they made a giant leap forward to achieve that in local government.
Please note: To register for our free weekly newsletter please click HERE.
THIS WEEK’S POLL ASKS:
*Should local government Maori wards be abolished?
Dr Muriel Newman established the New Zealand Centre for Political Research as a public policy think tank in 2005 after nine years as a Member of Parliament. The NZCPR website is HERE. We also run this Breaking Views Blog and our NZCPR Facebook Group HERE.
The last six years of inept management by the Hipkins-Ardern Labour Government has exposed a multitude of problems facing the country that n...
Welcome to Breaking Views
Breaking Views brings you expert commentary on topical political and policy issues. The views expressed are those of the author alone. The blog is administered by the New Zealand Centre for Political Research, an independent public policy think tank at NZCPR.com - register for the free weekly NZCPR newsletterHERE.