Monday, April 29, 2024

Mike Butler: Tauranga wants fairness on Maori ward

Six thousand Tauranga citizens who petitioned in 2021 for a vote on a proposed Maori ward want some fair treatment over such a ward that is currently being imposed on Tauranga.

These citizens feel aggrieved that their local election in July 2024 features such a ward without a vote even though the right to vote on such wards is being restored.

And it looks like that Maori ward will stay in place for six years, until 2030, long after other councils have had referenda on or disestablished their Maori wards.

Back in 2020, the elected Tauranga council was among nine councils that proposed Maori wards. Affected residents in all nine council areas petitioned for a referendum.

The required five percent needed for a referendum in Tauranga was 4742 signatures. The petition deadline was February 21, 2021. By February 1, over 6000 signatures had been collected and submitted.

The Tauranga City Council was notified and a referendum was advertised on February 12, 2021 with referendum voting closing on May 8 that year.

But February 1 was also the day that former Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced that the right to petition and vote on proposed Maori wards would be removed from law.

The Elections NZ had confirmed sufficient qualifying signatures had been collected and a date had been set for a referendum. Mahuta’s law change took effect on March 2, 2021.

Some wondered whether the Monday, February 1, announcement by Mahuta was utu for a widely reported public meeting at which lobby group Hobson’s Pledge founder Don Brash, the previous Friday, announced that the Tauranga petition had sufficient signatures.

However, the decision to outlaw Maori wards petitions had been made by Cabinet on December 14, 2020.

Labour didn’t campaign at the general election on changing the law on Māori wards and it didn’t appear in its manifesto, which promised the exact opposite, that “Labour will ensure that major decisions about local democracy involve full participation of the local population from the outset.”

The Maori ward vote abolition legislation, which was retrospective, was presented under urgency in Parliament on February 9, 2021. Just two days were allowed for public submissions.

The Maori Select Committee (shouldn’t that have been the Local Government Select Committee?) reported back to Parliament on February 15. The bill became law on February 25, 2021.

Mahuta’s line in 2021 was that votes on Maori wards were racist.

But 20 years earlier, as part of Helen Clark’s government, she spoke in support of petitions and votes on Maori as the Local Electoral Act 2001 bill was before Parliament.

Meanwhile, Mahuta, on February 9, 2021, replaced Tauranga’s mayor and councillors with four commissioners after mayor Tenby Powell resigned and asked for commissioners.

The commissioners confirmed, at a meeting in April 2021, the previous council’s decision to set up Maori wards – the decision that sparked the petition.

The four commissioners’ initial appointment was expected to conclude at the October 2022 local government elections.

However, Mahuta reappointed them for a new term running from April 26, 2022, to July this year, when the next local election for Tauranga City Council would be held.

Twenty five days ago, on April 4, the new Local Government Minister Simeon Brown announced that petitions and votes on Maori wards would be restored, and that a bill to this effect would be introduced “in the coming months”.

“Affected councils will be required to hold a poll alongside the 2025 elections” and “the results of these polls will be binding”, and “will take effect for the local government term beginning October 2028”, Brown said.

“If councils do not wish to hold a poll, those councils will be given the opportunity to reverse their decision to establish Maori wards or to disestablish those wards prior to the 2025 local body elections," he said.

But the Tauranga City Council Maori ward slips in through a crack.
• The Tauranga election is this July,2024,
• The new council’s term would be 4.25 years to 2028,
• Tauranga unable to have a referendum alongside an election next year because unlike all other councils there is no election there then,
• A Maori ward takes effect for six years or two triennial terms (according to Section 19Z (c) (3) of the Local Electoral Act 2001)
• Six years from 2024 is to 2030.
The Tauranga council could reverse its decision on the Maori ward but a Tauranga council has to be elected first, and a new Maori ward is part of the set-up that is being elected.

It looks unlikely that a new council would immediately dump a newly elected Maori ward councillor.

Bear in mind, nothing can change until the law is changed and the coalition government appears to have no sense of urgency about changing this particular law.

It took Mahuta and the last government 25 days to outlaw petitions and votes on Maori wards.

If the coalition had the same sense of urgency about restoring the right to petition and vote, the law would be changed today.

To be more specific, legislation should be passed before July this year and include a clause that prevents the anomalous Tauranga city Maori ward from proceeding.

Of course, this legislation could simply disestablish all Maori wards created without a vote since February 1, 2021.

Any council that wished to set up Maori wards could go through the process set up in 2001.

You never know, there might be widespread public support for them. If so, they would then have a clear mandate. As is they don't.

It is important to note that Tauranga /Bay of Plenty was the birthplace of Maori wards and constituencies.

In December 1996, Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s Maori Regional Representation Committee backed by iwi leaders proposed that council establish Maori seats similar to the Maori seats in Parliament.

There was no referendum or public vote.

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council (Māori Constituency Empowering) Act 2001 became operational in 2004.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, ACT Party leader David Seymour, and New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters need to know that 6000 voters in Tauranga are waiting to be treated fairly as the coalition government professes to implement its Maori ward policy.

The Local Electoral Act Maori ward amendment needs to pass into law by June 30 and should prevent the anomalous Tauranga Maori ward from proceeding.


Ray Stevenson said...

Thanks for posting Mike ,a perpect explination .

Robert arthur said...

The maori ward member is going to be faced by a huge quandary. Do they act constructively and cooperatively for the common good and thus attract general respect and likely public approval for continuation at the referendum? Or do they adopt the more customary maori approach of participating and acting only in selfish maori interests, and generally obstructing and complicating wherever possible, and introducing leg pull convoluted maori names willy nilly, all to thus gain publicity and mana amongst fellow maori, but jeopardising the non maori referendum vote?

Anonymous said...

”In December 1996, Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s Maori Regional Representation Committee backed by iwi leaders proposed that council establish Maori seats similar to the Maori seats in Parliament”.

There was no referendum or public vote.

Who was in power in NZ in 1996 when Iwi proposed this scheme?
On 10 December 1996 New Zealand First leader Winston Peters chose to form a coalition with National.

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council (Māori Constituency Empowering) Act 2001 became operational in 2004. (Under the Labour Government)

National 'resolute' on Treaty Principles Bill stance. Māori Development Minister Tama Potaka says, "There will be no referendum".

Treated fairly? Don’t hold your breath. It’s taken a lot of our money over many years for the uni-party to introduce and bed in apartheid. They won’t want to undo all their hard work eh.

Anonymous said...

Great example of why people want Treaty Principles /Referendum because Luxon et al just not with it.

No council should slip through the cracks. That this is happening in Tauranga makes a mockery of what Luxon et al say they think they will do one day.

Anonymous said...

I live in Tauranga and couldn't agree more. Thank you for highlighting Tauranga’s particular situation and the coalition government’s glacial pace of action. Why not “simply disestablish all maori wards created without a vote..”. They’re a slap in the face of democracy. They shouldn't exist unless the people vote for them.

Anonymous said...

Tauranga will need to either scrap its Maori ward or implement a referendum and then make any change to council representation in time to for the 2028 council election.

"Tauranga City Council is considered a special case. Transitional arrangements will apply to Tauranga City Council, with different timeframes to apply after its July 2024 election."