Go-ahead for Maori wards

COMPELLING ARGUMENT: Te Runanga o Ngati Awa chief executive Leonie Simpson addresses the Whakatane District Council on her submission regarding Maori representation. Photo Louis Klassen D6220-11

WHAKATANE District Council has agreed to establish Maori wards after a vote was passed six in favour, five against.

Maori representation was discussed at an extraordinary meeting yesterday and councillors voted after listening to the presentations of submissions.

The issue attracted 45 submissions with 16 submitters electing to address the council. While not all of those who had indicated their desire to speak to their submission attended, many of those who did urged the council to “be courageous”.

A joint submission on behalf of the iwi of the Whakatane district, signed by the chairmen of Tuhoe, Ngati Awa, Ngati Rangitihi, Ngati Manawa, Ngati Whare and Ngati Tuwharetoa mai Kawerau ki te Tai, was among those received.

In it, the six chairmen outlined that Maori made up 43.5 percent of the Whakatane district but were not well represented around the council table.

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“As our iwi move forward in a post-settlement environment, we have exciting and aspirational strategic plans [that] will see increased iwi-led growth initiatives and economic development opportunities for our people into the future. Alongside this, a younger Maori population means that a greater percentage of the workforce in the future will be Maori, reflecting the importance of ensuring strong relationship that inform a culturally response approach to decision making.

“We acknowledge steps made to enhance Maori engagement to date, including better representation on community boards, and the collaborative Whakatane Ki Mua community vision project, but there are large improvements needed. The district needs to move beyond involving Maori in the engagement process and make a bold move to ensure Maori are partners in local decision-making.”

In her submission, Te Runanga o Ngati Awa chief executive Leonie Simpson said her organisation supported the creation of the Maori wards as a way of recognising the partnership established under the Treaty of Waitangi.

“Te Runanga o Ngati Awa is heavily invested in the Whakatane district, as a commercial, social and cultural developer, initiator and kaitiaki (guardian) on behalf of Ngati Awa.

“The Whakatane district is the homeland of Ngati Awa. It will always be our homeland.”

Te Runanga o Ngati Manawa general manager Maramena Vercoe said her organisation, and iwi, would bring value to any partnership because they could offer different thinking and different solutions from intergenerational learning and understanding.

“Ngati Manawa expects nothing less than partnership. We expect to be involved in the decisions made that impact on our rohe (tribal area). We reject being part of an advisory group or anything tokenistic.”

A report to the council on the matter also noted feedback received via Facebook was 51 people in favour of establishing Maori wards and 18 were opposed. Five emails or other written submissions were received in favour of the wards with three against.

The main points raised in favour of Maori wards was the high proportion of Maori in the district required specific representation on the council and the creation of such seats would be a symbol of partnership. Those opposing Maori wards said there would be no added value for ratepayers but operating costs would increase, they would be ‘separatist’ or ‘race-based’ and the existing system provided adequate representation for Maori.

The report also outlined the method used to calculate the number of Maori members would be based on the Maori electoral roll population and the general electoral roll population.

“For the Whakatane District Council, the Maori electoral population is 11,300 and the general electoral population is 23,800, totalling 35,100 registered voters. When applied, the formula equates to a figure of 3.22, which is rounded down to three Maori seats, assuming a council of 10 councillors (excluding the mayor).”

Therefore, seven councillors would be elected from one or more general wards.

“The council could choose to amend the size of the council; however, the proportion of Maori representation to general representation would remain the same (with possibly some adjustment for rounding).”

Now that the council had resolved to establish the roles, it must give public notice of the right of electors to demand a poll on the matter, with 5 percent of the electors enrolled at the previous triennial election to demand a binding poll to be held on a proposal whether or not to introduce Maori wards for the next triennial elections. The poll is estimated to cost $40,000 plus GST.