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Thursday, May 23, 2024
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Democracy and Treaty work together

OPINION

By Gerald Ford

[email protected]

I’m finding myself a little bit torn this week.

On the one hand, there’s my rural Wairarapa roots, which might only date back to the age of 10 but are pretty significant to me.

On the other hand, there’s my sense of fair play.

I feel for new councillor John Dalziell, who is a fellow rural east coaster, who in my view genuinely believes there is nothing out of line in his stance for restricting voting rights to elected – and not appointed – committee members.

I suspect many other rural types, and many urban, would agree with this principle.

I do however think that this view – also shared by sitting councillors Gary Caffell and Brent Goodwin as well as fellow newbies Frazer Mailman and Bex Johnson – is wrong.

Do they have a mandate? Were these councillors elected on this voting rights issue?

I sincerely doubt it. Each of those three new councillors had a profile, as did the two sitting councillors, and in a small region like Wairarapa it generally takes a strong existing profile to get elected.

They would have been elected on personality, not on issues, which means it is still okay to change their minds.

Democracy is not simple in New Zealand, and the comparison between iwi appointees and theoretical superannuitants is telling and unfortunate.

Maori do enjoy a special status in New Zealand as tangata whenua, and this status is enshrined in much of our legislation – which requires taking into account the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

In 1987 Justice Robin Cooke of the New Zealand Court of Appeal attempted to enunciate those principles.

These included good faith, the duty of the Crown to active protection of Maori interests, and the right of the Crown to govern.

Other decisions have cited partnership as one of the crucial principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

And here, perhaps, is the solution to this disagreement.

Maori do not want to take over. The winner-takes-all, First Past the Post view of democracy does not fit in here.

While local government bodies are not the Crown, surely there are similarities and lessons that can be learned.

Masterton District Council democratically took a step forward in the appointment of these two iwi representatives, and democratically decided not to take a step backwards.

If they had decided differently, it would have been democracy in action, but it would have been democracy failing act in according with the principles of the Treaty on which New Zealand was founded.

It would have been an un-New Zealand thing to do.

It is time to move forward.

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