21 Feb 2018

Lobby group confident in fighting Māori wards

9:29 am on 21 February 2018

Lobby group Hobson's Pledge is confident it has the numbers today to force referendums in four districts considering introducing Māori wards.

Don Brash

Hobson's Pledge spokesperson Don Brash Photo: ACT Party

Hobson's Pledge has been organising petitions in five districts that are looking to bring in Māori wards on their councils.

A Māori ward can be challenged if five percent of residents who were enrolled at the last local body election petition for a referendum.

Today is the deadline, and the group's spokesperson, Don Brash, said they were looking good.

"We're pretty confident that in four of those five we've gathered sufficient signatures to ensure there is a district-wide or city-wide vote.

"Kaikōura we're not sure, but in Western Bay of Plenty, Whakatāne, Palmerston North and Manawatu we're pretty confident we've got to five percent."

Dr Brash said there was no place for Māori wards in New Zealand.

"Creating separate racially based representation has to be a significantly backwards step for New Zealand in the 21st Century."

He rejected the idea that the referendums could divide communities.

"What is divisive is creating separate, racially based political representation - I mean what could be more divisive than that?

"We're saying 'look, cut that out, don't have that'."

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said many people have raised concerns with her about the referenda, but she said the law allows for it.

"Opinion within those communities has certainly moved on but the public deserves a good debate and I hope it is an informed debate because Māori participation in councils has shown to make quite a good contribution to decision making.

"And we should look to encourage that where it is supported at a local level."

New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd

Andrew Judd Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Andrew Judd was the mayor of New Plymouth when the council's move to introduce a Māori ward was voted down in a landslide in a referendum.

He said the government was allowing groups like Hobson's Pledge to stir up communities - and it needed to change the law, which he called "segregation by legislation".

"How on earth is it, in this day and age, we have an active legislation that allows active petitioning of Māori - who are tangata whenua?

"This legislation loads the gun for Hobson's Pledge to fire off and that's what we're seeing play out - it's embarrassing."

Mr Judd doubted any of the Māori wards would go ahead.

Local Government president Dave Cull said the feeling among many councils was that central government should change the law.

"There's quite a lot of questions in the local government sector as to why when a geographical ward is proposed the people affected are asked, whereas when a Māori ward is proposed everyone is asked, even those that are not affected.

"And that is not seen among a good number of our members as fair or equitable at all," Mr Cull said.

Third party spending declarations show Hobson's Pledge also spent more than $250,000 on advertising during the last election.

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