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Shock walkout at SWDC meeting

Teresa Aporo, Amber Craig, Tirau Te Tau, and Carlene Te Tau. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

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Frustrations about the quality of representation available to Maori through local authority structures have spilled over with a member abruptly withdrawing from a council committee after a tense interchange.

South Wairarapa District Council Maori standing committee member Teresa Aporo walked out mid-meeting in Martinborough last week but has not formally resigned.

Aporo was supported by non-committee members Tiraumaera Te Tau [chairwoman of Rangitane o Wairarapa], Carlene Te Tau [a member of the board of trustees of Rangitane o Wairarapa], and Amber Craig [deputy chairwoman of Rangitane o Wairarapa], who all left together.

At the meeting, Aporo had been joined around the committee table by Tiraumaera Te Tau and Carlene Te Tau, with Craig supporting the group from the public gallery.

Aporo is one of two representatives from Kohunui Marae on the MSC.

Her withdrawal adds to the vacancies of a Rangitane o Wairarapa representative and a vacancy from the Hau Ariki Marae.

All four withdrew their support from and engagement with future MSC processes.

Tiraumaera Te Tau stood up during a committee discussion about the MSC’s terms of reference to make the shock announcement, after which they all left.

Accompanying the announcement was a letter of withdrawal which has not been made available to the Times-Age.

It is understood signatures were still being sought to formalise the withdrawal.

“The door is still open regarding relationships. It is absolutely still open,” Te Tau said.

The statement caused strong reactions at the meeting from other committee members who said they had not seen the letter of withdrawal in advance and the way the issue was sprung on them was a breach of protocol.

Committee chairwoamn Narida Hooper said afterwards the letter had been a bolt from the blue.

“We had no warning,” she said.

“They have some issues and concerns. We are open to the conversation. We are not saying the Maori standing committee is the only way to have representation, but it is the structure we have at the moment,” she said.

Te Tau said after the meeting the issue had nothing to do with the debate surrounding Maori wards.

“We had concerns about the terms of reference that had been developed [for the MSC] and how the committee membership disadvantaged tangata whenua [people of the land].”

In the updated terms of reference for the MSC, the membership of the committee was: three councillors appointed by council in consultation with iwi representatives, as well as two representatives from each of the three South Wairarapa Marae [Kohunui Marae, Hau Ariki Marae and Papawai Marae], two representatives from Pae Tuu Mokai o Tauira, one representative from Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, one representative from Rangitane o Wairarapa, the mayor, and one youth representative in an advocacy role.

Te Tau said there was a perception tangata whenua issues were not being taken seriously.

“We see this as an opportunity to work on an engagement framework. This is an opportunity to engage with iwi marae in a way that is going to be meaningful and not always determined by South Wairarapa District Council.

“When you go through their meeting packs it’s council-centric.”

“We want to work with our whanau and our hapu and our marae to come up with a solution where equity is at the table,” Craig said.

The withdrawal was effective immediately, but a South Wairarapa District Council spokesperson said they had not yet received a formal resignation.

“We have had no resignations from the Maori standing committee. We fully support and back our committee.

“The resignation process differs for elected officials compared with members nominated and then appointed by council. The standard practice for appointed members is to advise of their resignations in writing to the chief executive,” the spokesperson said.

The withdrawal comes exactly a year after Raihania Tipoki’s resignation from the MSC after a long-running dispute about the place of the committee within the council.

He was the chairman of the MSC at the time.

In his resignation letter, Tipoki said South Wairarapa Maori needed a greater degree of autonomy and had “outgrown council”.

The withdrawal also comes as the government appoints a committee to conduct a wide-ranging review of local government and its functions.

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said in April when she announced the review that local councils were essential bodies, and it was important to get the right settings for them to deliver their important mahi.

“They are now facing a wave of reforms that will significantly affect their traditional roles and functions. They have told us the timing is right to determine what our system of local democracy should look like to make sure it is fit for the future, and I agree.

“This also offers an important opportunity to explore how we can embody the treaty partnership through the role and representation of iwi/Māori in local government,” she said.

The review is expected to issue an interim report on its probable direction in September 2021, followed by a draft report for public consultation in September 2022, and a final report in April 2023.

SWDC chief executive Harry Wilsonhad fronted dozens of Wairarapa activists at the council chambers calling for a Maori ward in the district ahead of a deadline last month.

South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen said he couldn’t comment until he had seen the withdrawal letter, which had not been made available at time of publication.

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