Submission against Maori ward in Palmerston North

This is a submission against a proposal by the Palmerston North City Council to set up a Maori ward because there is no evidence that this is a step strongly desired by Maori roll voters, because sufficient opportunities for all citizens are available to contribute to decision-making processes, and because Maori wards set up elsewhere have not increased participation by Maori voters. If the council wishes to test this option, the council should put the matter to a vote. The submission is on behalf of equality group Hobson’s Pledge set up to debate such issues. Hobson’s Pledge members agree that there is no longer any need for special Maori representation in government, whether it be Maori electorates in Parliament, Independent Maori Statutory Board in Auckland, or racially based representation in other governance bodies.

Issues to consider

1. The Palmerston North City Council is considering a Maori ward under Section 19 Z of the Local Electoral Act 2001, by which all councils have the option of establishing Maori constituencies or wards by resolution of council and challengeable by a poll of all voters. 

2. The Discussion Document for Maori Ward Options circulated by the council says that a decision must be made at a meeting starting at 9am on October 24, 2017. The council has the choices of retaining the present position, or establishing a Maori ward or wards, or alternatively could decide to conduct a poll. If the council decides to establish a Maori ward or wards, the number of Maori Councillors and ward boundaries will be finalised as part to the Representation Review which will be carried out next year. Voters have the right to demand a poll which can challenge that decision (at least 5 percent of city electors are required for that demand to be made).

3. The overall electoral population for Palmerston North City on June 30, 2016, was 86,200, with 77,400 on the general and 8800 on the Maori roll, according to the discussion document. The five percent to trigger a poll would be around 4310 signatures.

4. The council says Parliament developed the option of having Maori wards “to enhance the role of Maori in local government decision-making” and “to address a concern that local government does not at present represent Māori issues, or wider issues with real implications for the Māori community, in ways that are compelling to, and engaging of, the Maori community”.

5. The discussion document does not cite the Local Government Act 2002 but any discussion on this matter with any local government employee doesn’t proceed without obligations under this Act being cited. Section 14d of this Act says is that “a local authority should provide opportunities for Maori to contribute to its decision-making processes”. Arguably, there is no limitation for any such opportunities afforded to Maori citizens. There is in fact no impediment for people of any ancestry in New Zealand either to enrol to vote, to vote, or to stand for council since the right to vote and stand for council is open to all New Zealanders 18 and over.

The treaty clause in the Local Government Act 2002 says:

in order to recognise and respect the Crown’s responsibility to take appropriate account of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and to maintain and improve opportunities for Maori to contribute to local government decision-making processes, Parts 2 and 6 provide principles and requirements for local authorities that are intended to facilitate participation by Māori in local authority decision-making processes.

This clause appears to regard Maori as somehow a separate class of citizen that exists in a partnership relationship with the Crown. We wish to note that the Act refers to treaty principles, created since 1986, and not to the Treaty of Waitangi, which, according to Article three, regards all citizens equally as subjects. We also wish to note that a citizen of New Zealand cannot at the same time be both a subject and a partner of the state.

Section 81 of the Local Government Act 2002 says:

A local authority must—(a) establish and maintain processes to provide opportunities for Maori to contribute to the decision-making processes of the local authority; and (b) consider ways in which it may foster the development of Māori capacity to contribute to the decision-making processes of the local authority; and (c) provide relevant information to Māori for the purposes of paragraphs (a) and (b).

This somewhat vague and high-sounding assertion has providing an opening for all manner of Maori committees, Maori boards, and Maori wards ostensibly to satisfy the demands of a so-called Maori worldview. Closer inspection reveals that most people in New Zealand appear to want more or less the same outcomes irrespective of ancestry –a home to live in, a job, good schools, available healthcare, and someone to love. All Maori boards and wards manage to do is to wrap all this up in a package that looks and sounds like it is Maori. One such entity, Auckland’s Independent Maori Statutory Board, functions increasingly like a solution looking for a purpose. Further details about this ill-conceived monster may be read here at

6. A further justification for Maori wards is the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Local Government New Zealand and the Iwi Chairs Forum in 2015. The Local Government NZ president Lawrence Yule asserted that councils operate under statutory regimes that require “interaction and relationship with Maori” and the Iwi Chairs Forum has appointed itself as representing Maori without providing evidence that it represents anyone other than itself. The Iwi Chairs Forum is a group of business organisations largely created through the treaty settlement process and as business groups they have a strong interest in management of resources, the coast, and transport. Local government apparently fails to see the conflict of interest that such business organisations would have when they seek to co-govern resources.

7. The requirements created by central government to “consult with Maori” under the Local Government Act 2002, the Resource Management Act, the Land Transport Management Act 2003, and treaty settlement statutes seeks to create somewhat of a parallel universe for “Maori” who are supposed to be living in “the Maori world” when the fact of the matter is that “Maori” actually live in the same world as everyone else, with the same wants and needs, already mentioned.

8.Three councils currently have Maori Wards. They are the Bay of Plenty Regional Council (established in 2001 by specific legislation), the Waikato Regional Council (established 2013 by council resolutions), and the Wairoa District Council (to be established from 2019 as the result of a poll at the 2016 general election).

9. Proponents of Maori wards argue that such wards would increase Maori participation in the local democratic process. However, the experience of one council that set up three such wards shows that this is not the case. Voter turnout at the Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s three Maori constituencies continued to lag. Turnout in 2010 was between 27 percent and 41 percent, and in 2013 was between 20 percent and 32 percent, when the general constituency turnout was 45.7 percent. Figures for 2016 at both the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Waikato Regional Council are still awaited.

10. Since 2007, six councils have held a poll on whether to establish Maori Wards or not, with one of these resulting in Maori Wards being established. This was in Wairoa in 2016 (54 percent voted for to 46 percent against).  Wairoa has a Maori population of 58.6 percent. The other polls showed opposition to the establishment of Maori wards of around 80 percent of those who voted.

11. There is a push to get rid of the right to have a citizen-initiated referendum should a council choose to set up a Maori ward or two. In a one-signature petition, the former mayor of New Plymouth, Andrew Judd, proposed getting rid of the right to vote. He sustained a stinging defeat when he proposed Maori wards in New Plymouth in April 2015. The vote showed 83 percent opposition. Judd thought getting rid of pesky voter opposition by canning any referendum was the way to go to achieve equality. His petition is to be considered as part of an inquiry into 2016 local authority elections. A submission closing date was set at December 31, 2017, but changed to August 22, blindsiding many who planned to submit.

12. Meanwhile, Green Party MP Marama Davidson put in a member’s bill titled the Local Electoral (Equitable Process for Establishing Maori Wards and Maori Constituencies) Amendment Bill, to get rid of the right for citizens to vote on whether or not to have Maori wards. The bill was voted down on the first reading.

13. If equality was actually the issue behind Judd’s petition and Davidson’s bill, the Act could be amended to provide for a vote on whether to set up all wards in local government, which may not be such a bad idea.

14. Under the formula in Schedule 1A of the Local Electoral Act, a Palmerston North City Maori ward could have up to two Maori ward members. If this were the case, if the total number of elected members were to continue at 14, this would decrease the number of general elected members from 14 to 12. This would result in 1 Maori ward councillor for 4400 voters and one general ward councillor for 6450 voters.

15. There are downsides for Maori roll voters in a Maori ward.

A. Maori roll voters vote for the Maori Ward candidates and no other ward candidates. This limits choice for Maori roll voters.

B. Decisions on so-called Maori issues will be channelled to Maori roll councillors who are there to give a distinctive Maori perspective. This would lead to such decisions being left to the Maori roll councillors, which would tend to reduce the amount of effort put into such decisions. Before MMP, such side-lining of Maori issues has been a substantial disadvantage of the Maori seats in central government.

16. One comment from a Maori roll voter in New Plymouth after the fractious campaign there was that the one action Mayor Andrew Judd and the council failed to take was to seek the views of Maori roll voters.

17. There is an assumption that Maori voters equate to Maori roll voters which is incorrect. Currently, 45 percent of Maori ancestry voters are on the general roll, and 55 percent are on the Maori roll.


The Hastings District Council had the same obligations as the Palmerston North City Council is currently grappling with and wisely decided to stay with the status quo of no Maori ward. Palmerston North currently has no councillor of Maori ancestry, although the city has had Maori councillors in the past. The deputy mayor Tangi Utikere identifies as a Pacific Islander and Wiremu Te Awe Awe became the first Maori elected to Horizons regional council last year. Hastings has three councillors with Maori ancestry. This should be sufficient evidence that there is currently no impediment to anyone of Maori ancestry from contributing to and participating in the democratic process in Hawke’s Bay. No evidence other than airy statements about imagined statutory obligations has been presented by anyone to show that there is a strong desire from anyone, anywhere, for a Maori ward in Palmerston North. Therefore, we recommend against proceeding with a Maori ward in Palmerston North, or at least put the matter to a vote.