Judd bill to bypass Maori ward referenda before Parliament

A Green Party members bill which would end the right for a referendum should a council want a Maori ward was pulled from the member's ballot today, which means MPs could now vote to change the law. Currently, establishing Maori wards in local government can be put to a referendum while general wards are decided on by council alone.

The Act was put under the spotlight about three years ago when then New Plymouth District Mayor Andrew Judd unsuccessfully tried to create a Maori ward in the district.

Following a narrow council vote in support of the seat, a citizens' initiated referendum saw 83 per cent of 25,338 returned votes against the proposal.

Judd labelled the law "a breach of indigenous rights" and a way for the Crown to control Maori. He went on to put before Parliament a petition calling for a change.

In March, Green Party MP Marama Davidson proposed the Local Electoral (Equitable Process for Establishing Maori Wards and Maori Constituencies) Amendment Bill, which was drawn from the ballot last week.

If passed, the bill would ensure the establishment of both wards followed the same legal process.

If equal treatment was the issue, why not allow referenda when other wards are proposed?

It would also require councils to consider, at least once every six years, whether to establish Maori wards and Maori constituencies.

The bill was inspired by Judd, who after being publicly shunned for supporting Maori wards did not stand for a second term as mayor, Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei said in a recent statement.

Judd said it was "exciting" the bill had been drawn and that the issue still had traction.

But said it should have never needed to be put in the ballot in the first place.

It was broken legislation and it should be one law for all, he said.

This bill followed from a petition that had just a single signature -- Judd's.

New Plymouth resident Hugh Johnson, who collected 4248 signatures in the petition which led to a forced referendum, said the proposed amendment to the bill was "a backwards step." 

Caught off guard when approached by Stuff, he was was unaware the bill had been drawn and did not wish to elaborate.

Councils are already required to consider Maori representation every six years. Separate Maori seats in central government were only intended as a short-term measure in the 1860s until the property qualification for Maori voters was sorted out. Separate seats passed their use-by date in 1893, when New Zealand was the first country in the world to achieve universal adult suffage, which is the right for all adult men and women to vote. What are Judd, the Maori Party and the Green's thinking?