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John Bain

The Destruction of Democracy

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I have just resigned from the Northland Regional Council (NRC) on a matter of principle, over how ONE vote can change a century old system of electing our local decision makers.

Like many local authorities around New Zealand, the NRC faced demands to change our voting system to introduce Maori wards. As a result, at our council meeting on October 20, a motion was tabled in favour of Maori wards: “That pursuant to section 19Z of the Local Electoral Act 2001, council resolves to establish Maori constituencies for the 2022 and 2025 local body elections.”

I strongly believe that the community should be consulted over such a major constitutional change to our voting system, since the introduction of Maori wards will involve re-drawing our electoral boundaries, and either replacing general wards with Maori wards, or increasing the size of the council.

Accordingly, I moved an amendment to consult the community before the decision was made by the council: “That council instigates a poll to determine the community’s view on the establishment of Maori constituencies”.

The motion was refined to: “That pursuant to section 19Z of the Local Electoral Act 2001, council resolves to establish Maori constituencies for the 2022 and 2025 local body elections and that council instigates a poll to determine the community’s view on the establishment of Maori constituencies”.

The motion for holding a referendum was defeated by 5 votes to 4.

The other Councillors who voted in favour of holding a referendum were Justin Blaikie from Hokianga-Kaikohe, Colin ‘Toss’ Kitchen from Te Hiku, and Rick Stolwerk from Coastal South.

Those Councillors who voted against a referendum, were the Chair Penny Sharp from Kaipara, Marty Robinson and Joce Yeoman from Coastal North, Amy McDonald from Coastal South, and Jack Craw from Whangarei Urban.

To alter the electoral system to introduce separate seats based on race without a poll being taken of the community is abhorrent. It should be fought on every front. The fact that our fathers went to war to protect our democratic rights and freedoms, is enough reason for me to stand up now and be counted. I hope people reading this will feel the same.

There are several important issues at risk for the Regional Council.

Firstly, every person who is successful in an election either swears on the Bible, or Affirms, that they will represent the whole community. They then sign the Declaration and take their seat. No current Councillor spoke up and said they couldn’t represent any part of our Province, by race, position, or belief. Their actions by voting for Maori seats, says the following to me: they have not declared their obvious lack of understanding of their position, and they have stepped aside from the solemn promise they made to represent the whole community.

Secondly, no Councillor stood up prior to the last election on a platform of separate seats for any group, or for any change in a ward system that has served us well for generations. Not one Councillor mentioned Maori seats – not one.

Thirdly, the Council has in place TTMAC, the Te Taitokerau Maori Advisory Committee, which was established in 2014 to ensure the Council did not inadvertently set in motion anything affecting Maori, that was against their tradition or interfered with something sacred. A good and reasonable aim.

The Council then went further and expanded the representation for Maori to be equal to the numbers of Councillors who work in these portfolios – a job that the elected members were elected to do and have done alone since the Council was first formed. This group, appointed on racial grounds, now consists of 26 hapu and iwi representatives. The running costs goes to the ratepayer and includes meeting fees, food, mileage, and other such gravy train expenses. Even worse, I believe that several of these non-elected advisors don’t even live in Northland – they live in Auckland.

So, where are we at?

The future looks like a huge step backwards. This is the first step towards a racially-divided Council – one that will not be able to function effectively in my belief.

The NRC is not alone – the Kaipara District Council has started down the same foolish track and so has the Whangarei District Council. 

In contrast, the Far North District Council is a shining light. They made the decision to ask their community whether they want Maori wards and they will hold a referendum on the issue at the next local body election in 2022.  

Because changing our voting system is such a serious constitutional decision, the law allows the public to force a poll of voters if the council makes the decision without consulting their community.

That is an option that is now being considered.

To force the NRC to hold a referendum asking the public whether they want Maori wards to be introduced, we would need to have 5% of registered voters on the Northland roll to sign a petition requesting a poll. This needs to be completed before 28 February 2021. Some 6,500 people would have to sign the petition for this to happen. The poll cannot be done by email – signatures have to be in writing.

Sadly, this is what we are now being forced to consider because the NRC is ruling like a dictatorship instead of a democracy!