Time has come for Māori wards

Published on 13 May 2021

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Last week, Councillors voted to establish Māori wards in the Far North for the 2022 and 2025 local body elections. This was a momentous decision and one I think is supported by many residents. Several councils around the country have already taken similar steps, but we understand Northland is currently the only region where a regional council and all that region’s territorial authorities have established Māori wards.

Our decision taken in Kaikohe followed several passionate and moving presentations from iwi and hapū representatives delivered in front of a packed public gallery. I can recall few other Council meetings that have attracted the level of public interest we saw last week, with many people having to watch the meeting via a video link set up next door in Memorial Hall. Our debate of the issue was powerful and I want to commend all Councillors for the courageous and principled contributions they made.

If you are familiar with the history of this issue, then you will be aware that I supported a decision last year to poll electors on establishing Māori wards during the next local body election in 2022. As stated at the time, I support the adoption of Māori wards and believe it to be a vital step in the economic, political and cultural growth of the district. However, elsewhere in the country decisions to adopt Māori wards had been overturned by publicly initiated polls and I believed this would also occur in the Far North, further delaying action on the issue for another six years. Whangarei and Kaipara district councils, as well as Northland Regional Council, all adopted Māori wards and petitioners subsequently gathered more than enough signatures to force these councils to initiate polls. In the end, these did not occur because the Government passed new legislation allowing councils to revisit decisions on Māori representation. The Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Act gave councils until 21 May to decide on establishing Māori wards for the next elections, regardless of previous decisions or previous poll outcomes.

In recent months, we have conducted four workshops on Māori wards for councillors. Meanwhile, residents have provided informal feedback on the issue as part of our Representation Review conducted in March. Of those, 81.76 per cent supported Māori wards, while the remaining 18.24 per cent did not.

This, and the passionate support we witnessed last week, convinced the Council that the time is now right for Māori wards. The meeting also voted to immediately reconsider our committee and community board structures, membership, and delegations to ensure Māori representation is a part of these decision-making bodies. The challenge for our district now is to consider how best to implement these resolutions and how best to include iwi, hapū and our community on that journey. I will update you on how we plan to do that as soon as I can.