The Western Bay of Plenty District Council is divided into three wards for electoral purposes. However, in November 2017, Councillors voted – with nine votes in favour and three opposed – to establish additional race-based wards, which would guarantee seats for Maori.
This move was taken despite the Council already having two established vehicles for Maori to discuss and address issues of significance in their communities. The Te Arawa Ki Takutai and the Tauranga Moana Partnership Forums make ‘recommendations’ to all Council committees. The Forums and their members are funded by ratepayers – to the tune of $260 per meeting with 0.74 cents a km in mileage – and enjoy a position of privilege over all other residents.
But Western Bay is not alone in heading down this dangerous path. Four other Councils have also recently voted to create race-based wards. It certainly appears that our country’s commitment to democracy and citizen equality is fast becoming a complete charade.
The People Take Action
Fortunately, the law currently allows such a Council decision to establish Maori wards to be put to a referendum if 5 percent of eligible voters sign a petition. In the Western Bay, this required the signatures of 1,708 local electors.
So after the Council vote, concerned ratepayers quickly joined forces, printing petition forms and gathering signatures. People were generous in offering assistance and funding for the inevitable expenses. Most signatories were checked against the electoral roll to ensure that he or she was eligible to vote in Western Bay.
We were inundated with people wanting to sign and we quickly collected more than 4,500 signatures – significantly more than required to force the Council to listen to the people. It is noteworthy that supporters included Maori residents who also had no desire for such racist policies or structures. It makes you wonder if anybody in Council is listening to them?
It was heartening for me to see democracy at work. Most New Zealanders undoubtedly want a level playing field with one set of rules for everyone, regardless of who our ancestors were.
We can’t afford to relax, however. Dave Cull, Mayor of Dunedin and President of Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ), rejects the notion that the people should be allowed a say. He is calling on the Government to remove the provisions allowing petitioners to call for public referendums on Council proposals to establish Maori wards.
In criticising the current petitioners, Cull seems to think that freedom of speech and democracy are not good for our communities. I’m sure the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mugabe, Mao Zedong and the Gang of Four, Kim Jong-un, Putin and numerous other tyrants would agree with him. Just remember how very successful at destroying their countries and their people they were or are.
Despite being democratically elected and living in a wonderful country (thanks to its democratic political system), Cull certainly shows preference for a more discriminatory arrangement.
No Need for Racial Division
In my time as a Western Bay Councillor, there were two people of Maori ancestry who were also voted onto Council. They did not require any system of apartheid to get elected. They won their seats because they worked to convince voters that they had ability, enthusiasm and the interests of their communities and district at heart. They did not get there because of their bloodlines or the colour of their skin.
But Western Bay Council chooses to ignore this. Their obsession with granting special privileges to one section of the community over all others is divisive. It is also insulting to all Maori, suggesting that they are incapable of achieving without patronage. This thinking has no place in our egalitarian society.
Western Bay residents are not alone in fighting this scourge. New Plymouth rejected Maori wards in 2015. Other regions with residents recently achieving successful petitions against racist councils are Manawatu, Whakatane, Palmerston North and Kaikoura.
In the resulting referendums, all voters can send a clear message to their Councils that establishing racist wards is wrong and totally unacceptable.
By Mike Lally, Western Bay of Plenty District Councillor, first published by the New Zealand Centre for Political Research on April 8, 2018.