Kaikōura ex-councillor pushes case for Māori ward: ‘Natural next step’

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A Kaikōura woman is asking the council to urgently reconsider the idea of creating a Māori ward.

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Labour MP Tamati Coffey, right, receives a petition from Toni Boynton from Te Rōpū Tautoko Māori. It sought a change in Māori wards that has since been enacted. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Former Kaikōura District councillor Celeste Harnett raised the issue in the public forum at the council’s February meeting, in the wake of the recent law change on Māori representation.

“Currently even with a strengthened iwi-partner relationship… council still does not have an elected member who is able to competently represent the Māori perspective and who is fully mandated by a majority of Māori voters,” Harnett said.

Councils can set up Māori wards without consulting their communities after the Local Electoral Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies Bill was passed by Parliament last month.

The Kaikōura council voted to create a Māori ward in 2018, but the move was defeated when 86 percent of the community opposed it in a poll forced by a small number of electors.

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The new Bill has removed that right of public veto, which was seen as discriminatory because it did not apply to any other ward decisions councils could make.

Harnett, who is of Tainui ancestry, said the 2018 poll had been disheartening for Māori but voters had been influenced at the time by intensive publicity from the Hobson’s Pledge lobby group.

“It was the first time people had been presented with the idea of a Māori ward; they needed time to think about it, and they were hit with this barrage of misleading information.

“There were mailouts and lots of scaremongering and we councillors were advised by local government not to advocate for our position because that would be seen as influencing the voters – it was very difficult.”

Kaikōura council deserved credit for striving to strengthen its relationship with Māori since then, building closer ties with manawhenua and creating a jointly-fund Māori liaison staff position, Harnett said.

“I’m optimistic that community views will have changed since that poll, especially if people can be better informed about Māori wards.”

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One common misconception was that only Māori could stand for election in a Māori ward, and that the elected member was there solely to advocate for Māori.

“You have to be on the Māori electoral roll to vote in the ward, but anyone can stand – Māori or Pākehā.

“You will bring a Māori perspective to the council table but like every other councillor you still have to act in the best interests of the whole community – not just one section of it,” Harnett said.

The government has given councils until 21 May to decide if they want to set up a Māori ward in time for local government elections next year.

The Kaikōura council would need to put the issue on its agenda for this month if it wanted to meet the deadline, Harnett said.

“That would give councillors a bit of time to talk to the community about it and seek some feedback – I am hoping they do.”

The Kaikōura earthquake had woken the council up to the segregation that still existed between Māori and Pākehā communities and it had since made good progress in breaching that gap, Harnett said.

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“Having an elected Māori member at the council table is the natural next step in that progress. We should take this opportunity, not sweep it under the carpet.”

Missing the May deadline for a resolution would mean the council would have to wait another four years before it could revisit the issue of Māori representation, Harnett said.

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Local Democracy Reporting

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