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Referendum ‘will end’ Māori ward

Masterton will probably lose its Māori ward councillor when it’s put to a referendum, according to the district’s Māori ward councillor, Marama Tuuta.

The prospect is sad and it’s a backwards step to force local councils to hold referenda on the ward councillors, she said.

Local Government Minister Simeon Brown announced in April that local bodies that had introduced Māori wards without consulting residents will be required to hold binding polls alongside next year’s local body elections.

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

Both Masterton and South Wairarapa District councils will be among those forced to hold binding polls.

Masterton Mayor Gary Caffell said last month that the government demanding a referendum is “an expense we don’t need for an issue that has already been debated and agreed at the council table”.

“I believe our decision to create a Māori Ward was the right one for our district and has been a positive addition to Masterton District Council and the communities we represent.

“We have certainly had no indication from our community that it is not.”

Tuuta was elected as Masterton’s first Māori ward councillor in the 2022 local body elections.

Despite the council being in favour of it, she feels sure that Masterton’s Māori ward will be disestablished if the issue is put to a referendum.

“It’s a racist thing and, unfortunately, there are still elements of that in our society.”

Tuuta said she wondered why the government is treating Māori wards differently.

“They’re not disestablishing the rural wards, so why are they disestablishing the Māori ward?

“It’s a waste of money, and they’ve already made the decision.”

Tuuta said she wouldn’t have run for office if it hadn’t been for the introduction of a Māori ward.

She said that when she looked around and didn’t see many people who were interested in standing, she saw an opportunity to represent her community and went for it.

“I wouldn’t know how to campaign, it would be foreign for me to stand up and say, ‘Vote for me’.”

She said Māori wards are important because they give Māori a voice, although she feels she represents all of Masterton’s residents.

“Maybe they’re not using it because they’re not used to it but given time they would use it.”

Tuuta said any perceived lack of engagement from Māori in politics is due to their disempowerment and disenfranchisement from the political system, rather than apathy.

To get more Māori engaged, there should be more wānanga and more help given to people in filling out election enrolment forms.

However, Māori communities will take it in their stride if the Māori ward is disestablished, Tuuta said.

“It’s just one of the many things we’ve had happen to us.

“We’ve been here this long, waiting; we’ll wait even longer.”

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