Maori Myths & Legends: Local electors deliver stinging rebuke

By Michael Coote

Over recent years the people of New Zealand have repeatedly spoken through binding polls held under the auspices of the Local Electoral Act 2001 (LEA, see link appendix 1) concerning establishment of separate Maori representation in their local governments. As of May 19, 2018, results are in for no fewer than five LEA binding polls, wherein local electors decisively vetoed Maori wards that elected representatives on their local councils tried to foist upon them.

This outcome is not only a stinging rebuke to the five local councils concerned, but also to their representative organisation, Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ), which is actively campaigning for abolition of the LEA’s binding poll system in order to ensure that local councils monopolize the power to establish Maori representation within their elective structures.  The LEA’s current binding poll system is a form of direct democracy that works perfectly well in enabling  grassroots local electors to choose for themselves by simple majority vote whether or not they want race-based council representation.  Local electors are entitled to binding polls under sections 19ZA to 19ZG of the LEA, which are precisely the same sections that LGNZ wants to get rid of to suit its own purposes.

 Maori wards and constituencies split elective local government representation into two sorts: seats held by winning candidates from the general electoral roll and seats occupied by those from the Maori electoral roll.  The exact proportion of race-determined Maori seats versus non-racial general seats is calculated according  to formulae specified under Schedule 1A of the LEA.  Schedule 1A requires that Maori ward or constituency seats displace an equal matching number of general ward seats in local government representative structures.   The addition of Maori wards or constituencies to a territorial authority or regional council therefore decreases the proportion of general electorate councillors who are obliged to represent and consider the whole local community in their decision making, and replaces the loss with Maori electorate councillors who are only required to represent and advance the cause of local Maori tribes and other Maori in the wider community.  The result of such substitution is the racial balkanisation of the local authority concerned.

Table 1 shows outcomes of recent LEA binding polls on Maori representation in local government.

Table 1: The LEA’s binding poll system in practice

Year binding poll held Local authority concerned Votes for Maori wards (%)* Votes against  Maori wards (%)* Ratio for/against** Maori wards approved?
2007 Whakatane District Council 30 70 1:2.3 No
2012 Wairoa District Council 48 52 1:1.1 No
2015 New Plymouth District Council 17 83 1:4.9 No
2016 Wairoa District Council  54 46 1:0.9 Yes
2018 Palmerston North City Council 31 69 1:2.2 No
2018 Western Bay of Plenty District Council 22 78 1:3.5 No
2018 Manawatu District Council 23 77 1:3.5 No
2018 Whakatane District Council 44 55 1:1.3 No
2018 Kaikoura District Council 20 80 1:4.0 No

*Rounded to nearest whole percentage point.  **Rounded to first decimal point.

The LEA provides for elected councillors, personifying  representative democracy, to resolve by simple majority vote whether or not to introduce Maori wards or constituencies respectively into their territorial authorities and regional councils.  However, the LEA also allows direct democratic participation in that it permits binding polls of local electors to initiate Maori wards or constituencies, or otherwise confirm or overturn such similar resolutions as are previously reached by elected councillors.  Conflict can arise where elected councillors, serving under their representative democracy hat, vote one way on the matter, and local electors, acting under direct democracy rights, vote the opposite way.

 The LEA’s system is set up to ensure that binding polls prevail until the next time elected councillors are scheduled under representational review requirements to resolve upon whether or not to establish new Maori wards or constituencies.  As a consequence, a repetitive cycle of democratic give-and-take arises between elected councillors and local electors, meaning between representative democracy and direct democracy respectively.  The LEA guarantees that binding polls are an embedded direct democratic right for local electors that elected councillors cannot immediately overrule.  So far it appears that local electors are not complaining about access to binding polls or calling for their direct democracy rights under the LEA to be abolished, but as we shall see in more detail, LGNZ has taken on a very different stance.

Opponents of the LEA’s binding poll provisions tend to favour ad hominem tactics of branding supporters of direct democracy in local government as bigots, racists, rednecks, stirrers, ignoramuses, and old pakehas, to name just a few turns of phrase.  This attack is part of a concerted drive to racialize representation throughout New Zealand’s local government after the obsolescent 19th century pattern of our Parliamentary schism between general seats and Maori seats.  The option lies within the LEA for this anachronistic racialization to occur in local government under a binding poll – witness the case of Wairoa District Council.  Whether or not one agrees in principle with establishing Maori wards in local communities, the Wairoa example is a legitimate outcome under the terms of the LEA that was decided through direct democracy by local electors who will have to live with the consequences.  However, the critical check and balance upon elected councillors going beyond their local community’s wishes in resolving to establish racially-defined representation is the local electors’ right to binding polls in the first place. 

In reality, supporters of LEA binding polls and direct democracy are typically genuine patriots and sincere defenders of egalitarian democracy in New Zealand that is blind to race and deaf to demands for special privilege exclusive to segments of the community in the local electoral franchise.  By contrast, opponents of these same binding polls are frequently Maori racists masquerading behind the fraud of “Treaty partnership” with the sovereign Crown.  These indigenous racists are aided and abetted by their non-Maori collaborators who for various reasons hate New Zealand society as they find it and work to wreck as much of it as they can.  Such non-Maori collaborators characteristically advocate and facilitate the cause of Maori racial supremacism and consequently of necessity oppose racial equality in New Zealand. 

It is not necessary to be Maori in order to serve as an agent of Maori racism and therefore to be racist.  Non-Maori individuals and collective entities can incur this agency status and practice vicarious racism by association.  Even organisations like LGNZ, which might not be deemed as hostile to wider New Zealand society, can become vicarious Maori racists.  In LGNZ’s case, its racist status arises from advocating law changes to deprive New Zealanders of an existing legal right in order to facilitate the increase of separate race-based Maori representation in local government.

Up with representative democracy, down with direct democracy!

An American adage goes “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’  This is not the policy of LGNZ with respect to the LEA’s sections 19ZA to 19ZG that it wants abolished.  Incensed at the five LEA binding polls initiated earlier this year over previous elected council decisions to establish Maori wards, LGNZ has gone on the warpath against direct local democracy in petitioning central government to destroy the right of local electors to have their say.  In its now infamous open letter to the political party leaders of the Ardern coalition government dated 22 March 2018 (see full text in Appendix 2), LGNZ petitioned for elimination of LEA binding polls so that elected officials of its member territorial authorities and regional councils could act in splendid isolation when instituting race-based representation in their elective structures, without check or hindrance from their communities . 

In the open letter, LGNZ states, “Currently five councils have resolved to establish Maori wards; these are Kaikoura District Council, Manawatu District Council, Western Bay of Plenty District Council, Whakatane District Council and Palmerston North City Council, and each council is facing a binding poll that could reverse their decisions.  Should any of the polls succeed (a simple majority is all that is required) then not only will the proposed Maori wards not be established, but no future consideration of Maori wards will be able to take place until after the 2022 local authority elections.” What LGNZ is whining on about in its open letter simply happens to be the law under the LEA, wherein both representative local democracy and direct local democracy are permitted to exist and function side-by-side, exposing LGNZ’s prejudice in trying to secure a decision-making monopoly for its exclusive club of representative democracy members.  As it turned out, all five binding polls resulted in Maori wards being vetoed, contrary to LGNZ’s hostile purposes in pitching the absolute supremacy of elected councillors over local electors.

This self-arrogated Maori separatist advocacy by LGNZ is an outright contempt on local electors and a plot to purge direct democracy from local government.  Moreover it betrays an ambush sprung on LGNZ’s 78 local government members, who were not informed in advance of the open letter being sent to the government.  Additionally it inflicts  a slight upon its memorandum of understanding (MoU) “no surprises” co-equal Maori partner, the Iwi Chairs Forum (ICF), which was not told beforehand either.  The letter even states, after the fact of publication, that, “We intend to share this letter widely with our members and the public .”  In other words, LGNZ acted off its own bat out of a fit of pique over the five LEA binding polls that it disagreed with, and off it went to wipe out direct local democracy in New Zealand in service of the cause of Maori supremacism.

Quite unmistakeably the LGNZ open letter, signed by the organisation’s president, Dunedin mayor David Cull, generically and unconditionally backs increased existence of separate Maori wards in local government, notwithstanding a sop such as, “We acknowledge that the answers will vary from place to place, which is appropriate.”   Why LGNZ would undertake this position demands more answers than LGNZ gives in its open letter.  Its blatant bias in favour of Maori separatism in local government is completely out of step with Parliamentary history on this very subject.

Parliament’s position on direct democracy in local government

Parliament legislated for direct democracy in local government with the LEA for the purpose of enabling local electors to vote in binding polls on Maori representation in their territorial authorities and regional councils.  LGNZ’s open letter to the current government comes after crushing Parliamentary defeat at first reading in June, 2017, of the  Local Electoral (Equitable Process for Establishing Maori Wards and Maori Constituencies) Amendment Bill, which was sponsored by Green Party Maori activist and list MP Marama Davidson (see link in Appendix 1).  This repudiation occurred during the fag end of the doomed English coalition government of the 51st New Zealand Parliament (2014-7).  Ms Davidson’s bill, had it passed into law, would have achieved what LGNZ is now demanding.  The bill sought to abolish LEA binding polls and place creation of Maori-only racial representation on an identical footing with non-racial general representation at the unfettered discretion of elected local councillors.  It went down resoundingly by 71 votes against versus 48 in favour. 

The intervening event between Ms Davidson’s failed bill and LGNZ’s letter is of course the general election of 23 September, 2017, leading to a change of government.  Under Ms Davidson’s recent elevation to female co-leadership, the Green Party has revived her defeated bill as signature policy to enact in Parliament.  Of the political parties subsequently re-elected to the 52nd New Zealand Parliament (2017-20), National, Act and New Zealand First voted against the original Davidson bill and Labour and Greens voted for.  By writing as it has to the current government, LGNZ has co-opted itself as a Green Party tool in advocating racist Maori privilege at local government level.  However, assuming political parties in Parliament vote the same way on any replacement bill as they did in 2017, the numbers still don’t stack up for LGNZ’s quixotic campaign, as Table 2 shows.

Table 2: 52nd Parliament voting patterns on the Green/LGNZ position if replicated from 2017

Political party 2017 position 2018 votes*
Labour For 46
Green For 8
Total for Two parties 54
NZ First Against 9
National Against 56
Act Against 1
Total against Three parties 66
Margin of defeat 23 votes (19%) 12 votes (10%)

*Assumes all 120 MPs vote on the matter.  **National has vacated one seat, triggering a by-election in the Northcote general electorate seat to be held on 9 June, but is assumed to win there again.

Table 2 reveals that the potential margin of defeat for a new bill put up to serve LGNZ’s and the Green Party’s conjoint purposes has halved since the 2017 general election.  However, supposing the parties returned to Parliament vote consistently with the way they did in June 2017, the revived bill would again crash to defeat.  Given that it is highly unlikely that Act and NZ First would change their 2017 positions, and that it would be improbable that National would risk alienating many supporters by changing its previous position from being against to being for or abstaining on the issue, it is hard to know what LGNZ thinks it can achieve beyond politically-correct window dressing in support of race-based representation in local government.  Yet as if LGNZ dwells in Aotearoan cloud cuckoo land, its open letter concludes, “We … look forward to meeting with you to discuss our request and share with you the reasons why we believe this is an important and urgent matter for parliament to consider.”

What is LGNZ’s true position on direct democracy?

Even stranger, as Hobson’s Pledge leader Don Brash has given permission to publish in full from an email he received, it seems that LGNZ is in denial over key aspects of what its own president signed off in the open letter.  In response to his enquiry as to what LGNZ imagined it was doing with the Cull-signed open letter, Dr Brash received the following reply from Malcolm Alexander, chief executive of LGNZ, dated 30 April, 2018:

Good afternoon Dr Brash,

 [Far North District Council] Mayor Carter has asked that I clarify what the position of LGNZ is in respect of:

  1.  Whether or not councils should create, or not create, Maori Wards; and
  2. The process to which the decision to create, or to not create, Maori Wards should be subject.

 Creation of Maori Wards

 Presently, LGNZ has no policy on whether councils should or should not introduce a Maori ward into their local democratic representation.

 LGNZ policy on matters such as these is that such decisions are local decisions for each council to make depending on the wishes and needs of its community.  LGNZ perspective on this matter (and others) derives primarily from its positive advocacy for localism based on the principle of subsidiarity.  Consequently, LGNZ supports the right of its members to make democratic decisions that impact on their community.  Under a representative democratic model, elected members are elected to make decisions subject to democratic accountability every three years.

 Process Review

 LGNZ accepts that, in addition to triennial elections, it is appropriate for there to be a check and balance on councils decisions on representative matters.  Presently, for all representation decisions other than Maori wards, the check is provided by the Local Government Commission.  The LGC has a solid track record of reviewing representative decisions of councils and, where the case justifies it, altering those decisions.

Currently, the referendum option applies only to the decision to create, or not to create, Maori wards (you should be aware that any council deciding not to create a Maori ward also is subject to a possible referendum to overturn that decision).  It is LGNZ’s view that the difference in treatment between Maori wards and all other representative arrangements is not even-handed.  Therefore it is LGNZ’s view that the rules relating to the creation of any representative arrangement should be aligned.  For so long as the law allows councils to consider the concept of Maori wards then the rules that apply to the consideration of that type of ward should be the same as for all other wards.

 There are two ways to get alignment.  First Maori wards could be treated similarly to other wards.  This would entail a council decision with the checks and balances of LGC oversight.  As councils are elected to make decisions this would be the preference of most, and it is LGNZ’s present preference based on its approach to localism and representative democracy.

 The alternative approach would be to extend the referendum option to the creation of all types of wards and community boards.  This also would achieve the alignment objective but is likely to see a lot more referenda (which some may prefer as it is more of a direct democracy model e.g. Switzerland, than a representative democracy model).  Obviously the costs of this option would be higher.  However LGNZ would be content with referenda if they applied to all representation decisions made by councils (although as noted above the preference is to use the existing representative democratic model where accountability for elected members decision making-making occurs every three years).

 Finally, and as noted by Mayor Carter, LGNZ has had no discussions with the Iwi Leaders Forum on this issue or with any other organisation for that matter.

 I hope that clarifies matters.  

 Kind regards

Malcolm Alexander

Chief Executive

Local Government New Zealand

Mr Alexander’s explanation needs close comparison with mayor Cull’s open letter, which is set out in full in Appendix 2 for that purpose.  Something is not quite right.  The Cull-signed text unequivocally demands removal of the LEA’s binding polls in order to increase separate Maori representation in local government, just as the Green Party seeks to achieve.  Yet by contrast, the Alexander email to Dr Brash asserts that LGNZ has “no policy” on such race-based representation.  The arguments advanced for the LGNZ position on abolishing sections 19ZA to 19ZG of the LEA disagree widely between the Cull letter and the Alexander email.  It seems that there is one set of LGNZ reasons for the government and public, and quite another set for Dr Brash.  For example, mayor Cull writes, “The discriminatory nature of these polls is not acceptable. Of equal concern, the polls reduce a complex issue to a simple binary choice, which, by encouraging people to take sides, damages race relations in our districts,” whereas Mr Alexander opines, “LGNZ policy on matters such as these is that such decisions are local decisions for each council to make depending on the wishes and needs of its community.  LGNZ perspective on this matter (and others) derives primarily from its positive advocacy for localism based on the principle of subsidiarity.” 

A common feature of the misleading and manipulative Cull and Alexander communications is the sophism of conflating race-based Maori wards with ward types not based on race, as if there were no essential and irremediable difference in kind between them.  Another point of agreement is affirmation that LGNZ did not bother to consult with others before launching into print with the open letter.  LGNZ’s patronizing, Janus-faced ploys as exposed in the Cull letter and the Alexander email cynically calculate that it can beguile and bamboozle people in order to get away with its nefarious objective in abolishing direct democracy on Maori separatist representation in local government.  Local electors must respond by mobilizing at grassroots nationwide to contact their mayors, councillors and members of Parliament to demand retention of the LEA’s direct democracy sections, LGNZ be damned.

The option floated by mayor Cull in the open letter and and Mr Alexander in his email of binding “Switzerland” polls on “all types of wards and community boards” is just a ruse to equate and assimilate racism in local government representation with any other type of non race-based representation that elected councillors are required to resolve under the LEA.  As such the pseudo-Swiss alternative may be dismissed as LGNZ trying to be too clever by half.  It also appears deliberate that the Cull letter and the Alexander email suppress a third and viable – indeed the only just and true – option, which is to abolish Maori wards and Maori constituencies altogether from the LEA.  Failure to pose this solution to the question of whether LEA binding polls are necessary further strips bare the real LGNZ agenda of proliferating Maori separatism in local government, notwithstanding bogus assertions of “no policy” on the subject.


LGNZ is plainly up to no good and appears to be in the pocket of the Green Party in trying to secure abolition of the LEA’s legislated right for local electors to participate in direct democracy and vote in binding polls on separate Maori representation.  Local electors throughout New Zealand should have no confidence in LGNZ based on the open letter signed by mayor Cull and the email authored by chief executive Alexander.  Considering how the 78 members of LGNZ were treated as last-to-know mushrooms over the open letter, which was then twistedly reinterpreted by the subsequent Alexander email, perhaps they should have no confidence in LGNZ either.  Who knows what LGNZ’s ignored Maori partner the ICF is meant to make of all of this, but then cutting the ICF out of the loop is no doubt beneficial for democracy in New Zealand given its Maori supremacist agenda.  If any new binding poll is valid right now in the wake of LGNZ’s self-inflicted direct democracy scandal, it should be on abolition of LGNZ itself.  In the meantime, local electors need to get cracking with defending their direct democratic rights under the LEA that LGNZ is trying to steal from them.

Appendix 1:

Links to sources:

Local Electoral Act 2001:

Davidson bill is defeated in 2017:

Further background in Maori Myths and Legends Number 1 on LGNZ:

Appendix 2:

LGNZ Open Letter to Ardern government

22 March 2018

Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern Prime Minister Leader of the Labour Party Parliament Buildings WELLINGTON

 Rt Hon Winston Peters Deputy Prime Minister Leader of New Zealand First Parliament Buildings WELLINGTON

Hon James Shaw Leader of the Green Party Parliament Buildings WELLINGTON

Dear Leaders

Removing the poll for Māori wards and constituencies – an open letter to the Government

Ngā mihi kia koutou kī runga ī ngā tini āhuatanga ō te wā, greetings to you all during this time of many and varied issues.

We are writing to you in your role as the three leaders of our governing coalition on behalf of our members, the 78 local authorities of New Zealand. This letter seeks your support to remove those sections (s.19ZA to 19ZG) of the Local Electoral Act 2001 (LEA) that allow for polls of electors on whether or not a city, district or region can establish Māori wards and constituencies.

Following its decision in 2001 to establish Māori constituencies for the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, Parliament amended the LEA to give this power to councils, in consultation with their citizens. The amendment also allowed electors, through a binding poll, to either require a council to establish wards and constituencies or overturn a council decision to that effect.

The changes to the LEA were intended to increase Māori representation in local authorities but the intent has failed, largely due to the nature of the poll provisions; provisions which do not apply to any other type of ward or constituency. The binding poll only applies to Māori wards and constituencies.

Since 2002, in fact, the only Māori wards or constituencies so far established have been the constituencies introduced by the Waikato Regional Council, by resolution, in 2013 and the Māori wards, agreed by poll, in Wairoa in 2016. Over this period many polls have been held at the request of iwi to establish Māori wards only to be lost and in a number of instances councils have resolved to establish Māori wards only to have their decisions overturned by a poll of voters, for example, in New Plymouth District prior to the 2016 local elections.

Currently five councils have resolved to establish Māori wards; these are Kaikoura District Council, Manawatu District Council, Western Bay of Plenty District Council, Whakatāne District Council and Palmerston North City Council, and each council is facing a binding poll that could reverse their decisions. Should any of the polls succeed (a simple majority is all that is required) then not only will the proposed Māori wards not be established, but no future consideration of Māori wards will be able to take place until after the 2022 local authority elections.

As noted, these poll provisions apply only to the establishment of Māori wards and constituencies. That they do not apply to other wards and constituencies marks the provision as discriminatory to Māori and inconsistent with the principle of equal treatment enshrined in the Treaty of Waitangi. Either the poll provisions should apply to all wards or they should apply to none. The discriminatory nature of these polls is not acceptable.

Of equal concern, the polls reduce a complex issue to a simple binary choice, which, by encouraging people to take sides, damages race relations in our districts. Matters of representation and relationships should be addressed in a deliberative manner that employs balanced and considered dialogue – not by poll. In fact, a poll is not necessary. Should a council resolve to establish Māori wards or constituencies, or any other ward, against the wishes of its community then the community has the option to hold that council to account at the next election – this is how representative democracy is intended to work.

It is imperative that the Government acts to address the unfairness created by the poll provisions and put in place a legislative framework that will enable mature and constructive conversations about options for Māori representation in local authorities. We acknowledge that the answers will vary from place to place, which is appropriate, but resorting to simplistic and emotion-fuelled campaigns to seek signatures and votes is not good for our communities.

We intend to share this letter widely with our members and the public and look forward to meeting with you to discuss our request and share with you the reasons why we believe this is an important and urgent matter for parliament to consider.

Nāku iti nei, nā

Mayor Dave Cull President Local Government New Zealand

CC:         Hon Nanaia Mahuta, Minister of Local Government

               Hon Kelvin Davis, Minister for Crown/Māori Relations


Michael Coote is a freelance writer and financial journalist based in Auckland.

First published on the New Zealand Centre for Political Research website on May 27, 2018