Emily Ireland
emily.ireland@age.co.nz

The Maori Electoral Option is a “barrier to participation”, tangata whenua say.

In response, Carterton District Council [CDC] is pushing for an amendment to the option at this year’s Local Government New Zealand [LGNZ] general meeting.

In February last year, the government repealed the mechanism which accommodated binding polls on proposed Maori wards.

As a result, 32 councils had adopted Maori wards in time for this year’s local elections, bringing the total number of Maori wards to 35.

But voters currently on the general roll would be unable to vote in a Maori ward until the 2025 local elections because they were only allowed to switch rolls during a four-month period which usually happened every five years under current legislation.

The last Maori Electoral Option was in 2018, and the next was due to happen in 2024.

“Conversely, those currently on the Maori roll will be required to vote within the newly established Maori wards in the 2022 local election, regardless of their preference,” CDC said.

The council said it had raised the remit “as a matter of concern” following representation discussions with Rangitane o Wairarapa, Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, Ngati Kahukuraawhitia, and Hurunui-o-Rangi Marae.

A joint statement from Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, Rangitane o Wairarapa, and Ngati Kahukuraawhitia said a change to the Maori Electoral Option would strengthen the Maori-Crown relationship at a local level and would improve the process for councils to consider improved Maori representation.

They said supporting the remit would be a step forward in recognising rangatiratanga [self-determination] as mentioned in Article 2 of Te Tiriti o Waitangi – The Treaty of Waitangi.

“Furthermore, this action would also be consistent with the English version, which purports to improve the ability for Maori to make decisions about their resources and taonga.

“As mana whenua, our time has come to sit within the governance of our district.

“We wish to create a new chapter within the history of Wairarapa through civil leadership, walking side by side as equal partners within the Carterton District Council.

“Together, we can create a better district for all.

“We have raised our concerns with Carterton District Council that there are not enough voters on the Maori Electoral Roll within the Carterton district to consider introducing a Maori ward and have identified the Maori Electoral Option as a barrier for change.”

The Ministry of Justice initiated a consultation on the Maori Electoral Option in August last year. The process was criticised for lacking a consultation document, analysis of the problem or possible options, and the short timeframe.

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi announced an independent review of electoral laws ahead of the 2026 general election, with an independent panel to report back by 2023.

In October last year, Faafoi signalled that targeted electoral changes would be considered for the 2023 general election, including changes to the Maori Electoral Option.

But the flow-on effects to local electoral law had not been mentioned, CDC said.

Local electoral law was not included in the independent review’s scope.

CDC’s remit was supported by Masterton, Greater Wellington, Porirua, Lower Hutt, and South Wairarapa councils.

LGNZ’s Annual General Meeting would take place in Palmerston North in July.
– NZLDR
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