The issue of Maori seats around Council tables has certainly come to the fore in recent years, largely as a result of the fact that with Treaty settlements coming to an end, Iwi are casting their eyes around for what other resources or political power they can now accumulate. This is in fact the case with Te Arawa right now, under the guise of improving relationships with the Rotorua District Council.
In the Council’s case, I will give credit to the Mayor who sincerely wishes to see an enduring and better relationship with Iwi. It is worth pointing out however that in recent years there has certainly been an uprising of young Maori activists increasingly demanding not just improved relationship with Te Arawa, but a voice around the Council Table. I have regularly responded via the local media that under no circumstances should this occur as of right, and I have suggested that they should put their hand up at election time.
Hence it was with great concern to learn at a Council workshop early this month that there was a proposal to appoint two unelected Maori to all Committee Meetings, with voting rights, plus an equal number of Maori’s to Councillors on the RMA Hearings Committee.
What is somewhat different in this case however, is that unlike other Councils who have consulted their communities and consequently carried out a referendum, the Rotorua District Council clearly had every intention of pushing this significant constitutional change through by the end of May, to implement it by the 1st July. Further-more, the Annual Plan process in June was to be used to debate the issue, when in fact no reference to allowing Maori to sit around the Council table, and vote, has been made in this document.
It does however need to be pointed out that Maori working groups have been formulating a proposal over the last six months after an Environmental Court Judge instructed the Council to have a Cultural Impact Report carried out. This also resulted in the Rotorua District Council being fined $115,000 last year after Iwi produced a wahi tapu on the fifth and final day of an environmental hearing – but that is another story.
However, Te Arawa are yet to sign these recommendations off, or otherwise, at an iwi hui at the end of May. One would be extremely surprised if this proposal did not get the necessary approval at this meeting.
I have continued to emphasize that it is essential that the Rotorua District Council carry out a referendum on this issue if it wishes to proceed with this divisive proposal. My rationale is as follows:
Race Based Electoral Privilege is un-democratic. We Councillors are elected by the ratepayers. We are accordingly accountable to the community. Who would the two Maori representatives be accountable to? Their tribal affiliation? Certainly not the ratepayers of our city
The Rotorua District Council has always been well represented by Maori Councillors over the years. In past years up to 4 of the 12 Councillors have been Maori. We currently have 3, including a young Maori woman who at 21 years of age proved that Maori can, and should stand for Council if they wish to influence the future of our city.
The Rotorua District Council has led the country in the past with its Maori relationships, including the previous Te Arawa Standing Committee, Memorandum’s of Understanding, and other benefits. Just because the Standing Committee was not working in the eyes of some of the younger generation is no reason to go to the extreme step proposed.
The appointment of an equal number of Maori to Councillors on the Resource Management Committee is completely unnecessary as not only do the mechanics of the RMA itself provide for substantial Maori input, but already Council obtains a Maori perspective when necessary.
At a time when the Council is taking costs out of its operations, and significantly reducing its staff numbers, why should an Executive Officer and staff be appointed for a board of 8 members?
Finally, I would reiterate the necessity to carry out a referendum of the community as has occurred elsewhere around the country. For example, just last month the New Plymouth District Council rejected a call for Maori seats around the table, last year the Nelson Council poll resulted in 79% against, Wairoa 52%, Waikato District by 79% and so on.
Since I released the information about the proposals, and incurred the Mayor’s wrath, the support from both Rotorua, and around the country has been amazing to say the least. There is clearly a huge groundswell of opinion throughout the country that is saying enough is enough. For example, a poll carried out by the Rotorua Daily Post of 500 people to date is showing 80% are against any such change that gives iwi a greater voice on council.
The next step is to establish the criteria to force a binding referendum, which I am currently waiting on the Council to confirm. Then we will be watching with interest to see what option Te Arawa take in their hui at the end of the month.
Finally, I would just like to say that the time has come for the people of Rotorua, and New Zealand to register their stand on such an important issue as this, as if Iwi succeed in changing the long held principal of one person one vote, such “reserved seats” around the Council table will become an anathema to democracy.