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Free to form Maori wards

Masterton District Council would have one Maori seat if it was to form a Maori ward. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND

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Wairarapa councils are free to form Maori wards without public input, with the passing of the Local Electoral [Maori Wards and Maori Constituencies] Amendment Bill after its third and final reading last Wednesday.

Wairarapa has a Maori electoral population of 4900, and each district is recommended to have one Maori ward for its population size if they were to be established.

The total numbers of members for each district council would remain unchanged.

The amendment bill was supported by Labour, Green, and Te Paati Maori. National and Act opposed the amendment bill.

All stages of the legislation had been rushed through by government to give local bodies time to prepare ahead of the next election in 2022.

Government said the rush was to ensure that councils planning to set up Maori wards during the 2022 local body elections would not have them overturned by a referendum of local electors.

In 2002, the Labour Government changed the law to allow councils to set up Maori wards, but included a provision that would allow a local poll to veto a council’s decision to establish the wards.

Now, councils will be able to form Maori wards without the vote of the public.

Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty said the public didn’t have any capacity to vote on the formation of urban or rural wards, and the bill aimed to make that fairly apply to Maori wards.

“It’s levelling the playing field and empowering councils to form a ward if they wish to.”

McAnulty expected that Wairarapa councils would form Maori wards and said it would add another valuable voice and perspective around the table.

“Society has moved on. People have been used to having Maori electorates their whole lives, which work really well,” he said.

Since its initial introduction in 2002, 24 councils had tried to introduce Maori wards, but only three had been successful.

At the third reading, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said there had been a generational shift since the legislation was first introduced.

For Mahuta, the amendment was a chance to rectify an “unintended wrong” two decades later.

She said an increase in Maori representation was essential for ensuring equity of representation and to provide a Maori voice in local decision-making.

“While one iwi might say ‘we don’t want Maori wards and constituencies, we have other arrangements’, that should not deny other iwi or other Maori within a community from wanting Maori wards and constituencies. Do not play the divide and rule game,” Mahuta said.

McAnulty said Masterton District Council was an excellent example of how well iwi representation worked on council.

The council has two iwi representatives – Ra Smith representing Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, and Tiraumaera TeTau representing Rangitane o Wairarapa.

National Party local government spokesperson Chris Luxon told the House he thought the entire process had “been a sham”.

He said decisions about Maori wards should be left to local communities and people rather than central government.

“It’s not for central government to get in the middle of the relationship between councils, iwi and hapu,” Luxon told the House.

National has been promising to overturn the Maori Wards bill if elected in 2023.

Opposition Leader Judith Collins said the legislation was “shoddy lawmaking” and that public submissions were mostly against the changes.

McAnulty said National and Act would look back on this bill and realise they were on the wrong side of history.

“They wouldn’t try to abstain Maori seats,” he said.

He thought opposition would not campaign the bill at the next general election and that their resistance to the bill was grandstanding.

“It’s just the way politics goes.”

However, McAnulty did think councillors would campaign for next year’s local elections on this issue, but most would be positive.

“The vote passed 77 votes to 43; I think that goes to show the support it has.”

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