Thursday, May 30, 2024

Tom O'Connor: Minds made up on Māori wards bill before it was written?

It seems that the district mayors who signed the joint Local Government New Zealand letter opposing the Local Government (Electoral Legislation and Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill did not read or understand the bill before doing so. I wonder how many consulted their communities before signing.

Admittedly it is not an easy bill to read. But, judging by some of the political rhetoric from throughout the country, minds were made up to oppose the bill well before it was even written.

The objective of the bill is not about preventing Māori wards, in spite of some ill-informed commentary and outrageous claims in and out of Parliament. The bill seeks to restore and reaffirm the right of communities to make those important constitutional decisions for themselves, not have their councils making those decisions for them without their knowledge or consent.

Some councils have ignored that requirement and established Māori wards without public consultation. They will now be required to hold a retrospective binding poll at the 2025 local elections, if they did so since 2020, and that seems fair, democratic and reasonable.

Equally ill informed is the claim by LGNZ that the Government is intruding into the right of councils to make decisions on behalf of their communities. The bill does not propose that or anything like it.

Councils do not have unfettered authority to make decisions on behalf of their communities. Their decision-making authority is not absolute, and there are a number of very important qualifications and legal restrictions that LGNZ seems to have overlooked.

Our local authorities invest a lot of time and money in the development of annual plans, long-term plans and budgets which are then open to public scrutiny and possible amendment prior to adoption. There is also the six-yearly public referendum on representation systems. These essential public consultation processes give councils the social licence and legal mandate to operate.

It logically follows that any decision that is of significance, particularly in terms of constitutional and democratic representation, and that falls outside established policy created by those consultation processes, should also be subject to public consultation. But too many councils failed to do that.

The Government has had to step in and protect the democratic right of communities to make these important decisions. LGNZ seems to have become an unofficial and very hostile parliamentary opposition when it should in fact be non-partisan and neutral.

We can expect the Opposition to try to find fault with any new legislation; that’s their job. But for Labour’s spokesperson on local government, MP Kieran McAnulty, to suggest the bill is anti-Māori was unhelpful, untrue and well below his usual standard of debate.

With so many more serious issues looming for local communities, LGNZ should not be wasting time on what is in effect an invented non-issue.

The bill will also reinstate the requirement to hold a binding poll on whether to establish Māori wards or Māori constituencies (or any other constitutional matter) if a petition of at least 5% of the people on the council’s electoral roll ask for it. The requirement for Māori wards alone was removed by the previous government.

In spite of some ill-informed commentary and opinion, there is nothing in the bill that impedes or prevents Māori, or any other ethnic group, from becoming involved in politics at any level in New Zealand, either on Māori wards if the community approves of them, or as individuals. The bill will, however, help prevent the development of two classes of New Zealand citizenship.

Some of the common complaints made by a number of people opposed to the bill, also repeated in Parliament, are that non-Māori will not vote for Māori candidates, that the Māori voice in politics has been suppressed, and that there is an attempt to “exterminate” Māori. That is not only outrageously ridiculous, but an injustice to non-Māori voters.

It ignores the number of local body councillors, mayors and MPs who identify as Māori but have been elected by largely non-Māori voters. Māori have held almost every elected and appointed public office from governors-general, judges, lawyers, MPs and local authority councillors for more than a century and a half.

If the bill becomes law, local authorities will be free to establish Māori wards if they have a community mandate to do so, but no community should have a Māori ward, or any other representation system, imposed without full public consultation......the full article can be read HERE

Tom O’Connor is a published historian, elected Waimate District councillor, retired journalist and former political commentator for Stuff.


Peter said...

Well said, Tom. The only thing I take exception to is your statement "...MP Kieran McAnulty, to suggest the bill is anti-Māori was unhelpful, untrue and well below his usual standard of debate."

Au contraire, that is precisely his level of debate. Don't you recall how he sat there and bare-faced lied to the public - claiming that the Treaty required us to have Maori co-governance over the three waters. The proof of the statement has never seen the light of day, nor will it, because it was most certainly a lie. If it's not, well here's his opportunity to clear the air and prove it? But I do suggest that you not hold your breath.

Anonymous said...

McAnulty should always be remembered for his statement " one person, one vote, oh that's just an academic version of democracy"

Here we go again, with the claim that people with "special " DNA should have more rights than ordinary people.

And that is exactly what this Maori ward crap is all about.

Mary-Ann said...

I live on the kapiti coast and our council did consult ratepayers, overwhelmingly we were against it. Council however established a Maori ward anyway just after the election but before government was formed. Now we will have a referendum. My view is that anyone can stand for local election and enough votes will get you a seat. There is no need to get preferential treatment because of your race.