Earlier this month I made the most important decision I’ll ever make as Hastings Mayor. A decision that will change the course of Heretaunga’s future.
Along with my fellow Hastings District Councillors we voted to establish Māori wards in the 2022 local government elections.
Introducing Māori wards will offer a fair and democratic opportunity for manu whenua to exercise their citizenship. Their voices and ability to effect change will be heard at the Council table.
Our community had already spoken prior to this decision, during the consultation process, submitting more than 2000 submissions. More than 1500 of those were in favour of Māori wards.
What does the introduction of Māori wards look like to our present ward-based process? It means electors on the Māori roll would vote for candidates standing in the Māori wards, instead of those standing in the general ward, with all electors being able to vote for Mayor.
Every Councillor at the extraordinary council meeting on May 18th gave passionate kōrero before the vote was taken. Most agreed that it was time we honoured Te Tiriti o Waitangi, signed 181 years ago.
Our council is proud of its relationship with mana whenua, and with the Heretaunga Takoto Noa Māori Standing Committee. In recent times, our journey has presented challenges. But this has made us stronger together.
But Hastings District Council is not alone in coming to this decision. About 40 of the country’s 78 councils have voted in favour of Māori wards. And for all of us who voted yes, that decision now leads to another important question; how do we shape and structure our wards so that they are truly representative? To answer that, Hastings District Council is holding a Representation Review. This will decide the overall number of Councillors, number of wards and ward boundaries, including Māori wards.
The number of Māori wards in our district is proportionate to the Māori electorate population, who make up 26% of Heretaunga. Under the current system of 14 Councillors who represent Hastings District, three would be elected from Māori wards.
The Review will present an initial proposal for consultation no later than August 31st. I encourage all of you to engage in the consultation process that takes place after the initial proposal is presented.
And I would encourage tangata whenua’s best and brightest to put their hands up and commit to serving their community. Our community faces many challenges and opportunities. Your perspective will do nothing but help us.
When Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed 181 years ago, the catch phrase nationally was “He Iwi Kotahi Tātau!” We are one people. But here in Heretaunga the cry was “Kia Whakakotai Ararau!” Unity in our diversity. I believe Heretaunga’s proverb better sums up the spirit of Te Tiriti. That by communicating and sharing, our peoples will grow in a culture of understanding and harmony, a culture in which we can continually embrace a sense of equality that both unifies and uplifts us.
In coming to the decision to have Māori wards we have nothing to fear and everything to gain. We won’t always agree but it means we will work together. And that means we are – finally – honouring the founding document of this nation. Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Better late than never.