Do the Councillors pictured have a mandate for Maori seats?
A legislative change announced recently by Government would pave the way for NZ’s local and regional councils to add dedicated Maori wards/seats without ‘risking’ voter disapproval in public referenda.
Councils – with the HB Regional Council – heading in that direction, would have until May 21 to add Maori wards in time for them to be included in the 2022 local body elections.
Previously, as we reported here, HBRC, in a vote late last year that generated great bitterness from many (not all) in the Maori community, decided to conduct a referendum on the matter at the 2022 election, to be preceded by a robust public education effort and debate.
BayBuzz has asked councillors where they stand now that the polling issue is being set aside by Government.
Councillor Hinewai Ormsby (nee Hawaikirangi), who topped all voting in securing her election as a Napier representative on HBRC, had urged the ‘tread carefully’ approach that HBRC adopted last year.
In these recent comments to BayBuzz, Councillor Ormsby stands her ground:
“As a descendent of Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngai Tahu I 100% support and endorse Māori representation and our Māori voice when it comes to Hawke’s Bay Regional Council decision making and governance. It is critically important that as Māori we have a leading hand in shaping the future direction of how we care for our natural world, our Taiao (Environment) and all the life it sustains. The possibility of Māori wards creates a significant opportunity for enabling Māori to bring our voices and voting rights to the table.
“However with all things, the devil is in the detail, or as my husband Cam’s Tainui Iwi will say “He piko, he taniwha, he piko, he taniwha. Around every corner is a taniwha.”
“Because there’s lots to consider with regards to Māori wards in regards to how many (note; it can be either 1 or 2 under the Local Electoral Act), what the boundaries are, and when it will occur.
“A personal example of the implications for creating a Māori ward(s) is that only those persons currently on the Māori electoral roll will be able to vote for those Māori candidates. As a person currently on the Māori voting roll I would negate my personal ability to vote for candidates who I whole heartedly support within my own Napier rohe (area).
“One of my personal “whys” for being elected as a Regional Councillor was because I wanted to drive forward the revitalisation and protection of both the Ahuriri estuary and the Tūtaekurī River, both water bodies I swam in as a child and still swim in today with my children. When I was putting down two additional ticks in the voting papers next to my own, I was weighing up the worth of the mahi that the other candidates had done for those waterbodies so critical to my sense of being as mana whenua of Ahuriri – Napier. I respected Neil Kirton and his involvement with Hohepa Trust in restoring the Taipo Stream through native plantings that connects to the Ahuriri Estuary. I respected Paul Bailey with his dogged approach to environmental activism and appearance at many community native tree planting days at Waitangi Estuary; and I respected Martin Williams insights and stewardship when my brother and my husband challenged the discharge of legacy industrial contaminants found in stormwater entering the Ahuriri Estuary from the Pandora Stormwater catchment.
“My point is that by currently being on the Māori roll is that I personally may lose the ability to guarantee that my vote goes towards somebody who knows the lands and waters of my electorate as intimately as I do. Because I would now have to choose between whether I sit on a general roll or the Māori roll which depending on the “detail or taniwha” may hinder my ability to vote for a candidate from the Napier rohe (area). The number of wards, the boundaries of wards, and who and how people can vote for their preferred candidates who best represent their view and aspirations are all factors that we as the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council now need to do the hard mahi to consider.
“I’ve also watched in recent horror the utter chaos that occurred in the American Insurrection at the Capitol that at its heart is born out of polarisation and division. Therefore, we need to make sure that both Maori and non-Maori continue to work in partnership towards a common goal of environmental protection and sustainability.
“This is why I continue to advocate for the motion that I made at the Regional Council that we do the hard mahi to hear from our constituents on their views as to the shape of our future constituencies and electable candidates, and consider the pros and cons of what, where, why and how Māori representation is shaped in Hawke’s Bay.
“As a Māori wahine who’s connection to these Ahuriri lands and waters extending back 24 generations I know that connection and preservation of the taiao (natural world) is everything and this is what any person elected to the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council must bring be they Māori or Pākeha.”
Councillor Ormsby has an ally in Councillor Neil Kirton. He commented to BayBuzz:
“Participation by Maori in local and regional democracy is something I have supported for nearly two decades. Often this has been as a lone voice around council in debating whether to have seperate Maori constituencies.
“But representation for Maori is complex and fraught with political land mines. Maori and non-Maori need to think carefully and consult long and hard about how this representation works for them. Local hapu fiercely guard their independence. They will not tolerate others speaking for them. Are we setting up a structure doomed to fail?
“My own views have changed over time. From singular support for Maori constituencies to a less certain position. Not all Maori agree and have let me know in no uncertain terms! We must go out and talk with the whole community, listening to voices other than those shouting the loudest. This process will take time but is an investment well worth making.”
Councillor Jerf van Beek is firmly committed to broad public discussion before any decision is made. He wrote to BayBuzz:
“I remain committed to the decisions we made as councillors at the end of 2020. To conduct a referendum on the matter at the 2022 election, to be preceded by a robust public education effort and debate.
“In discussions with many of my constituents I have learned that very few know the history of 1867 why Maori seats in parliament where instituted.
“Also very few know that the Royal Commission on the Electoral System in 1986 – the one which recommended New Zealand adopt MMP – also recommended that the Maori electorates should be abolished at the same time as MMP was adopted.
“Therefore I believe we need to consult, educate and talk with the whole community. Listen to their views in a balanced way.
“The Hawke’s Bay community have not had this robust discussion or have been asked for their views on dedicated Maori seats ever before.
“This issue is too important for 9 councillors, who are generally new to this issue, to decide on.
“Unfortunately, it will be an expensive exercise and it will take time and effort away from what we are elected to do. Which is to look after the environment and in light of climate change make us more resilient to any effect that climate change will have on Hawke’s Bay.”
Councillor Martin Williams strongly advocates Maori wards, but supported Hinewai’s position in the last vote. Here are his recent comments to Baybuzz:
“I repeat my previously stated support for creating Māori seats; the issue last time was the lack of opportunity to consult on the proposal before a decision was made.
I do hope we can bring our communities on board, and would prefer as much as consultation as possible, including direct engagement on a hapū basis, and submissions /hearings if feasible (we are about to embark on the Long Term Plan process, so timing as set by the new legislation is not ideal).
Any final decision would of course need to be made after that process is complete.”
Whether any serious ‘process’ be squeezed in before May 21 is now the pending question.
Baybuzz also heard from Councillor Craig Foss, who has supported the Hinewai view:
“Thanks BayBuzz for covering this very important issue.
“I think most Councillors agree that singling out a group of New Zealanders by race, such as having a referendum veto that only applies to Maori representation is not right. Our previous resolution asked the Minister to remove this anomaly.
“However, I think that the majority of councillors are in favour of wards that only apply to Maori and will want to revisit the issue.
“If the council decides to revisit the issue and approve Maori wards there needs to a thorough consultation and an urgent consideration of how it will be implemented and an explanation of the details to present to the public. For example, would there be any changes to the make-up and procedures of the RPC and Maori Committee and how they interact with the full Council.
“Whatever the result, I sincerely hope that we are able to get back to our role of real and actual positive impacts on Hawke’s Bay’s water insecurity, drought resilience, soil damage, stream pollution, pest eradication, climate change and the sustainability of our economy for starters!”
I’m not sure Councillor Foss correctly reads the tea leaves as he surveys his fellow councillors. The ‘consulters’ seem to have the votes. As it stands today, the declared supporters of Maori wards include Councillors Williams, Lambert and, of course the initiators of the proposition, Graham and Barker.
Here’s what Councillor Rick Barker wrote to BayBuzz:
“I favour Council reviewing its previous decision on this matter
“I have consistently voted in favour of seats at the decision making table for Maori representation, as a direct parallel to what we have in the New Zealand Parliament since 1867. Any reasonable examination of our history will show that direct representation for Maori has served the country well. Local government for over a hundred years of history has been completely lopsided in its representation with Maori being unacceptable underrepresented. Putting this right is long overdue.
“I will vote in favour of our Council have a system of representation similar to our Parliament with Maori wards.”
And from Chairman Rex Graham:
“This will of course be a council decision, but my personal view is well known. I have always favoured having Maori seats on local body councils and have been unsuccessful (twice) in trying to do this at the HBRC.
“My view hasn’t changed and I would be very keen to meet this deadline set down by the Government.”
As a voter, editor and former regional councillor, my own view is that any claim that serious public discussion could occur and inform a Council decision before May 21 is farcical. Whether Councillors Graham and Barker have the votes to ‘fast track’ Maori seats by that date remains to be seen.
I believe no present regional councillor – including Councillors Graham and Barker – can presently claim to have any ‘mandate’ to adopt Maori wards … just personal beliefs. The issue has never been canvassed with the Hawke’s Bay public.
Adoption of Maori wards is a monumentally important governance decision involving differing ‘reads’ of historical obligation or redress and democratic principles … and how to integrate and respond to these.
Without question, it is a choice that deserves full public discussion and debate in the lead-up to the 2022 local body elections. Each one of our councils can then choose their course (one would think what’s good for the goose is good for the gander), and each candidate standing for election, weighing the debate, can be clear about where they stand and why.