On Wednesday, Regional councillors rejected a rushed effort by Chairman Rex Graham and Councillor Rick Barker to mandate — then and there — dedicated Maori wards for the HB Regional Council.

While most councillors expressed sympathy with the proposition, the ‘fast track’ advocated strongly by Councillors Graham and Barker was voted down 5-3, with those two and Wairoa Councillor Charles Lambert on the losing side (Councillor Martin Williams not present at the time of vote).

An alternative was presented by Councillor Hinewai Ormsby and adopted with the support of Councillors Neil Kirton, Craig Foss, Jerf Van Beek and Will Foley. Councillor Williams participated via videoconference for the early part of the discussion, expressing his support for Maori seats, but indicating process concerns and suggesting his preference for the Ormsby approach, which was voted after his departure. So, by a 5-3 vote (and probably 6-3 had Williams voted), here’s the resolution that passed:

That the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council:

  1. Receives and considers the “Māori Representation on Hawke’s Bay Regional Council” staff report.
  2. Instructs the Chief Executive to give notice to the Electoral Officer that a Poll on the question of whether the region should be divided into 1 or more Māori constituencies is to be held at the next election on 8 October 2022, subject to legislative change in the interim; to be preceded by robust engagement and consultation.

What this means at first glance is that Councillors in general seem prepared to move in the direction of Maori wards, but most believe that the voters of Hawke’s Bay should have a say in this fundamental governance matter. If a change of this gravity is to be adopted, it should be on the basis of demonstrated community support after “robust engagement and consultation”.

That was the position advocated by Councillor Ormsby, a Maori recently elected to HBRC by more votes than any other regional councillor … by her very presence at the table undercutting the notion that ‘fair’ Maori representation requires dedicated seats. She also noted that there were numerous important questions — all entirely unexamined at this point — as to how such a scheme would operate in practice.

In effect, the vote was decided when she, as the first Councillor to speak on the issue, voiced concern about the fast track approach and instead endorsed the need to bring the community along. She left Councillors Graham and Barker floating adrift in dead waters.

That said, note the caveat in red italics in the resolution that passed: “subject to legislative change in the interim”.

That is a reference to indications that the Labour Government might remove or alter the current provisions of the Electoral Act that allow public Polls to decide this representation issue, as opposed to councils acting on their own. It’s unclear what changes might actually be made or when … and therefore what impact they might have on today’s decision. This RNZ article helpfully discusses the national situation at length.

But as it stands today, voters in Hawke’s Bay will have a direct say in the matter via Poll conducted at the next local body election in October 2022. A prudent outcome.

A few comments on today’s debate, reinforcing concerns I expressed in my previous post on this issue.

Unfortunately, this was an unbecoming effort by two Councillors to railroad their viewpoint through over the misgivings of other Councillors … to say nothing of the unaware public. The entire process — starting with an embarrassingly deficient staff paper — was designed to that end, with no prior discussions amongst Councillors and then this ‘extraordinary’ session with only the barest of legally-required publicity … and certainly no public consultation.

Other than two members of the media and a few HBRC staff, I was the only non-Maori present today, amidst several dozen advocates from the Maori community (and good on them for making their aspirations felt). Several of the Maori leaders — Mike Paku, Michelle McIlroy, Ngahiwi Tomoana and Api Tapine — were invited to speak and present their endorsements of Maori wards to the Councillors; no one was invited to present an alternative viewpoint. All the makings of a ‘done deal’.

For their part, Councillors Graham and Barker asserted they were providing “leadership”, while other Councillors were shamefully shirking their responsibility. In my view, their true “leadership” on this issue would have been shown by acknowledging its contentiousness, accepting the legitimising value and need for public buy-in, and pledging to work as hard as possible to deliver that support through a democratic process.

That is precisely the pledge made by Councillor Van Beek to his credit. Hopefully Councillors Graham and Barker will rise to the challenge in the same admirable way after a few days of sulking.

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  1. Very informative article! Thank you. I know who I will vote for next time round that’s certain.

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