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SWDC Māori ward back on table

South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] is having conversations about establishing a Māori ward in the district.

In 2021 the council decided against establishing Māori wards for the 2022 local body elections. It was a contentious decision at the time, with Wairarapa iwi issuing a public statement expressing disappointment, and dozens of activists briefly occupied SWDC offices in Martinborough, which then-chief executive Harry Wilson responded to by singing them a waiata.

Now the issue is back on the table.

Earlier this year an independent panel that spent two years reviewing the state of local government across New Zealand concluded a radical overhaul is needed, including stronger relationships with Māori.

The panel’s 17 recommendations included the introduction of a statutory requirement for councils to develop partnership frameworks with hapū/iwi and Māori.

A report about an upcoming SWDC representation review tabled at last night’s Martinborough Community Board [MCB] meeting included an update on questions about a Māori ward.

The report comes as Masterton and Carterton District Councils this week confirmed they are considering merger options in conversations that will include mana whenua.

The report said the principles of the review were to ensure “fair and effective representation for individuals and communities” in local government, and it would consider whether to include a Māori ward for the 2025 elections, and other issues.

Whether to establish a Māori ward in time for the 2025 elections was one of two key resolutions SWDC would need to consider, the report said, with changing the electoral system from first past the post [FPP] to single transferable vote the other. However, SWDC discussed the latter and decided in August that FPP will be used in 2025.

“Officers have undertaken early engagement with the Māori Standing Committee to outline changes to the Local Electoral Amendment Act 2021 and the possibility of one Māori ward [based on the 2022 estimated census data] should a Māori ward be established,” the report said.

“Consultation with local iwi continues, with recommendations required from the Māori Standing Committee before a resolution be made on the Māori ward.”

A timeframe including an optional date of November 23 for a council resolution on Māori representation was included in the report.

After the 2021 protest, then-SWDC mayor Alex Beijen issued an open letter expressing his support for establishing the ward but said more time was needed for consultation.

“On a personal level, I also strongly support the concept of Māori wards, as I know other councillors do,” he said.

“Council decided against the establishment of Māori wards for the 2022 elections after careful consideration. We felt that a long lead time was needed to engage with our Māori and broader community before we could make such an important decision. We recognised there was much work to do to build our partnership with whānau, hapū, and iwi.”

The 2021 protest came after a joint press release from all four Wairarapa iwi entities, blasting SWDC for failing to consider introducing Māori seats and claiming the stance contravened the provisions of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The iwi statement said they were “extremely disappointed” with what they called SWDC’s “continued misinformation, delay tactics and the inability to engage with tangata whenua” for the establishment of a Māori ward. –NZLDR

    Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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