Why the current push for Maori wards?

Why are the Auckland Council, Napier City Council, and Palmerston North City Council currently considering Maori wards? This is because they are required to do so by legislation, most especially Section 19 Z of the Local Electoral Act 2001, which allows all councils the option of establishing Maori constituencies or wards by resolution of council. If councils decide to establish Maori wards, the decision can be challenged by a poll of all voters.

The Auckland Council has voted in principle for a Maori ward while seeking a change of legislation to enable establishment while noting that they want to avoid the costs of a poll, giving the appearance that they are simply trying to avoid having a poll.

Because councils must conduct a representation review every six years after a local body election, and because Maori wards have become part of the mix, there is constant legislative pressure to consider Maori wards.

Proponents of Maori wards often cite Section 14d of the Local Government Act 2002 which says is that “a local authority should provide opportunities for Maori to contribute to its decision-making processes”.

But currently there is no limitation for any such opportunities afforded to Maori citizens, or for that matter any other citizens.

There is no impediment for anyone 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.

Proponents argue that such wards would increase Maori participation in the local democratic process.

However, the experience of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council that set up three such wards in 2001 shows that voter turnout at the three Maori constituencies continued to lag.

Turnout there 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 46 percent.

Since 2007, six councils have held a poll on whether to establish Maori wards. The polls showed opposition to the establishment of Maori wards of around 80 percent of those who voted.

The exceptions were Wairoa in last year’s elections, where more than half the citizens are Maori and Maori wards were supported by a slim majority, and at the Waikato Regional Council In August 2012, which added two Maori constituencies without a poll.

Hobson’s Pledge opposes Maori wards because:

  • there is no evidence that this is a step strongly desired by Maori roll voters,
  • sufficient opportunities for all citizens are available to contribute to decision-making processes,
  • Maori wards set up elsewhere have not increased participation by Maori voters, and
  • Maori wards as such appear to have little purpose other than operating as a small, separate constituency in which some Maori roll voters select from a small pool of Maori candidates.

It is surely relevant that at central government level, Maori have shown themselves totally able to have their voices heard: almost a quarter of all the MPs in the new Parliament are Maori – 29 in total – with only seven of those elected in the Maori electorates.  The Deputy Leader of both National and Labour, and the Leader and Deputy Leader of New Zealand First, are all Maori.

See our submission against Maori wards in Palmerston North at http://www.hobsonspledge.nz/submission_against_maori_ward_in_palmerston_north

See our submission against Maori wards in Palmerston North at http://www.hobsonspledge.nz/submission_against_maori_ward_in_palmerston_north

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Authorised by C. Costello, Hobson's Pledge Trust, Suite 311, 184 Symonds Street, Auckland 1010, New Zealand.