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Mike Butler

Tribalising local government

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A 7-2 vote this week by the Masterton District Council to appoint representatives from two Wairarapa iwi to have voting rights on its standing committees is the latest step in a long march towards tribalising local government in New Zealand. (1)

The first such step appeared in 1996, when a joint working party at Environment Bay of Plenty proposed legislation to establish a Maori constituency based on the Maori roll to elect three councillors. Submissions showed 760 in favour and 252 against.

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council (Maori Constituency Empowering) Act 2001 prescribed a formula for calculating the number of Maori council members, and the council established three Maori seats in 2001.

The next step came nine years later, in 2010, with the amalgamation of councils in Auckland.

The Local Government Minister, Rodney Hide, vehemently opposed a recommendation by the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance for two Maori members elected by Maori roll voters, and that there should be a “mana whenua” forum.

So central government imposed a Maori statutory board appointed by the Maori Affairs Department but paid for by Auckland ratepayers.

The board was required to appoint two persons to sit and vote on each council’s committee that deals with natural and physical resources. (2)

The Auckland Maori board became somewhat of a cautionary tale for any other areas faced with council amalgamations and Maori boards. Among other things, the Auckland Maori board:

  • requested (and initially received) a $3.4-million yearly budget,
  • submitted a $295-million wish list for Maori in Auckland for the draft 10-year plan in December 2011,
  • pushed a notorious “cultural impact assessment” scheme that required homeowners to consult with (and pay) representatives from 19 iwi as part of the building consent process.

Debate surrounding the Auckland Maori Statutory Board apparently prompted Human Rights Commissioner Joris De Bres to write to all councils, in 2011, asking them to consider the question of Maori seats in their three-yearly representation review.

In response, of 78 councils nationwide, three councils – the Nelson City Council, the Wairoa District Council, and the Waikato District Council –agreed to start the process of establishing Maori seats.(3)

The process entitled affected electors to demand a poll. Every resident poll opposed race-based seats in local government with four out of six polls around 80 percent against.

  • Results of such a poll held in Wairoa in March 2012 showed that 51.89 percent were against Maori seats. (4) Around 46 percent of the Wairoa population are Maori, and 47.3 percent of electors voted.
  • A similar poll held by the Waikato District Council in April 2012 showed 79.2 percent opposition. Turnout was 30.16 percent. (5)
  • Nelson in May 2012 showed 79.41 percent opposition. Turnout was 43.4 percent. (6)
  • The Hauraki District Council in May 2013 showed 80.4 percent opposition. Turnout was 39.12 percent. (7)

The National-led government tried a different approach in 2012, by imposing a treaty settlement co-governance agreement on a local authority, this time in Hawke’s Bay.

Northern Hawke’s Bay tribe Ngati Pahauwera had a co-governance regional planning committee written into its treaty settlement in 2011. Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson approached the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council with two options. Either set up a co-governance board for each river in the region along the lines of the Waikato River settlement, or, set up a single committee to cover all natural resources in the region. The regional council opted for the latter proposal.

The regional planning committee, set up under the Hawke’s Bay Regional Planning Committee Act, comprises 10 councillors and 10 iwi appointees with two chairs, one appointed by the council and one by iwi. The appointees are full voting committee members.

Meanwhile, the push for Maori wards kept bubbling away.

  • The Far North District Council held a referendum on Maori wards in March 2015 found 68 percent opposition. Turnout was 35 percent. Nearly 44 percent of the Far North District is of Maori descent – well above the national average of around 16 percent.
  • New Plymouth residents voted “no” in May 2015 when 83 percent rejected a Maori ward. Turnout was 45 per cent. (8)

The champion of Maori wards in New Plymouth, the newly elected mayor Andrew Judd, announced to the nation on May 5 on Seven Sharp that: (1) he would not stand for a further term because people spit on him at supermarkets, and (2) that he was a “recovering racist” since he read guilt guru Robert Consedine’s book Healing our history.

After such a massive defeat on the Maori seats vote, instead of accepting the vote Judd lodged an official complaint with the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues against the New Zealand government for permitting such a poll.

There are two things that voters loathe: (1) Elected representatives running an agenda they did not mention during the voting period, and (2) Elected representatives ignoring voter opinion. Judd did both of the above.

Judd went further. He urged Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell to present a petition to Parliament to set up Maori wards on every district council in New Zealand without requiring a public vote. (9)

Flavell said, according to the New Zealand Herald, that “everyone is aware of the low participation of Maori in local government and the existing legislation is clearly inadequate,” he said.

Yet the three Maori constituencies in the Bay of Plenty have not increased the participation of Maori voters, according to election data supplied by Environment Bay of Plenty.

There were 30,096 electors on Environment Bay of Plenty’s three Maori constituencies in 2013, when 7812 Maori constituency votes were cast. Turnout then was between 20 percent and 32 percent, compared with 2010 turnout of between 27 percent and 41 percent. The general constituency turnout in 2013 was 45.7 percent.

Meanwhile, those keen on separate seats in Rotorua tried a different approach by skirting around the requirement for a ratepayer poll through a partnership plan.

It all started when the Rotorua Lakes Council had lost an appeal in the Environment Court in May 2013, lodged by the Ngati Pikiao Environmental Society Incorporated, Ngati Makino Heritage Trust, and Lake Rotoma/Rotoehu Ratepayers Association. The judgement strongly criticized the council for “a significant dysfunction between council and iwi in the area”.

The council commissioned a $30,000 “cultural audit”, the results of which were not released. The architect of the audit, who happened to be a person who represented a tribal group that was one of three groups that won the appeal against the council, dreamed up a “Te Arawa Partnership Plan”.

Ratepayers rejected the plan and a councillor resigned his leadership of the economic development portfolio in protest. The matter was referred to Te Arawa and a number of tribal meetings financed by the council were held.

The Rotorua council considered Maori wards in November 2014 and rejected them unanimously, having the effect of avoiding a poll.

The “Te Arawa Partnership Plan”.re-surfaced in December 2014, with minor changes, in the guise of a proposal from Te Arawa, sponsored by mayor Steve Chadwick, who introduced the proposal at the last council meeting before Christmas 2014, using her vote to pass for public consultation the option for appointees to have full voting rights.

Despite heavy opposition in more than 1800 written submissions and over 200 verbal submissions, the Rotorua Lakes Council approved the plan, in May last year, in which two representatives nominated by a new elected Te Arawa board will sit on the council’s two main committees with voting rights.

Meanwhile, Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule last August signed a memorandum of understanding with the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group on behalf of the Iwi Chairs Forum.

While voters have shown they do not support race-based representation, the top local government organisation has done a deal to create a partnership obligation for councils involving “economic development, environment, infrastructure, employment, social issues, health, housing and energy and local democratic representation and decision-making”. (10)

Separate Maori wards in local government widens the race-based paternalism that is evident in the Maori seats in Parliament. New Zealand should have cast aside such paternalism in 1893, when we became to first nation in the world to adopt universal suffrage.

Political rights in democracies rooted in Britain are based on citizenship and not ethnicity. These rights are for everyone regardless of race. The introduction of iwi appointees into local government undermines accountable democracy by stealth.

Mike Butler is a Hastings journalist who researched the development of race-based representation in New Zealand local government for the collaboration titled “One Treaty, One Nation”.


  1. Appointed iwi representatives get voting rights on Masterton council committees, Stuff, May 4, 2016. http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/79613952/appointed-iwi-representatives-get-voting-rights-on-masterton-council-committees
  2. Local Government (Auckland Law Reform) Act 2009 http://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/government/2009/0112/22.0/DLM2635107.html
  3. Nelson and Waikato agree to establish Māori seats on Council, Whitiwhiti Korero, Human Rights Commission, http://www.hrc.co.nz/newsletters/whitiwhiti-korero/english/2011/11/nelson-and-waikato-agree-to-establish-maori-seats-on-council/
  4. Wairoa council backtracks on Maori wards poll, Radio NZ News, March 12, 2012. http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/te-manu-korihi/99940/wairoa-council-backtracks-on-maori-wards-poll
  5. Poll clearly renounces Maori seats, Waikato Times, April 5, 2012. http://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/news/6698007/Poll-clearly-renounces-Maori-seats
  6. Nelson MP rejects making Maori seats on councils a right, Radio NZ News, May 21, 2012. http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/te-manu-korihi/106282/nelson-mp-rejects-making-maori-seats-on-councils-a-right
  7. Maori Wards Out For HDC. May 3, 2013. http://www.goldfm.co.nz/general-news/2013/maori-wards-out-for-hdc/
  8. Resounding no to a Maori ward for New Plymouth district, Taranaki Daily News, May 15, 2015. http://www.stuff.co.nz/taranaki-daily-news/68578894/resounding-no-to-a-maori-ward-for-new-plymouth-district.html
  9. Maori Party calls for law change, NZ Herald, April 10, 2016. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11619847
  10. Iwi Leaders and Local Government New Zealand sign Memorandum of Understanding, August 6, 2015. http://www.lgnz.co.nz/home/news-and-media/2015-media-releases/iwi-leaders-and-local-government-new-zealand-sign-memorandum-of-understanding/