31 Oct 2017

Two more councils vote against Māori wards

1:56 pm on 31 October 2017

Two Northland councils have again rejected the option of Māori wards, though neither has any Māori councillors.

110314. Photo supplied Whangarei's new mayor Sheryl Mai

Whangarei mayor Sheryl Mai Photo: supplied

Whangarei mayor Sheryl Mai moved last week to create a Māori ward in Whangarei but was defeated. Northland Regional Council has also rejected the option of a Maori constituency.

Ms Mai said that was unacceptable in an area where nearly a third of the population is Māori.

The Local Government Act requires councils to ensure Māori contribute to decision-making, and both councils have Māori advisory committees, but Ms Mai said in Whangarei's case Māori were asking for more and deserved it.

"Councils should reflect the make-up of their communities. You could argue that we're meeting some requirements, but it's the bare minimum," she said.

Māori made up to 30 percent of the population in Whangarei, but no Māori candidates were elected in 2016.

"To me it's a no-brainer: if we're not getting [Māori councillors] through the normal voting system, you use the mechanisms available to you under the Electoral Act, which is Māori wards," she said.

Northland Regional Council chair Bill Shepherd disagreed. His council's sole Māori councillor, Dover Samuels, lost his seat in last year's elections to a Pākehā woman dairy farmer.

Mr Shepherd said the council's Tai Tokerau Māori Advisory Committee (TTMAC) was playing an increasingly important role in the council's work.

"Māori have been unhappy in the past when we've come up with plans and then consulted, so what we're doing now is bringing them to the table with us as we formulate things like the Proposed Regional Plan, so they're in there with the council right from the start," he said.

Mr Shepherd said it was wrong to assume that a Māori councillor, if elected, was there to represent Māori.

"When you're elected to a council, you take an oath of office to represent the interests of the whole community, not any one group," he said.

Far North District Council is also now looking distinctly Pākehā after its sole Māori councillor, Willow Jean Prime, entered parliament as a Labour list MP.

Its mayor John Carter said his council rejected the option of Māori wards two years ago, though Māori make up an even higher proportion of the population than in Whangarei - in some communities, up to 70 percent.

"We may need to do more to encourage Māori to stand for council," he said. "But the hapū have had a lot on their plate in recent years with the Treaty claims and settlements, and we actually do have a lot of Māori people on our community boards."

The council also had many Māori staff, and a section of staff who dealt only with Māori issues in the Far North, Mr Carter said.

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