Minister for Local Government, the Honorable Nanaia Mahutu, was in town on Wednesday last week to address a gathering of the region’s MPs, councillors and other stakeholders. Ms Mahuta spoke about key issues affecting the region, including shared water management and Māori representation on council – both things the Waipa District Council has voted against in recent months, rejecting both a shared water company and a Māori ward.
Describing the shared water management conversation as “not an easy one to have”, Ms Mahuta said that councils are right to consider a different, more strategic approach to water management.
The enquiry following the Havelock North water contamination crisis of 2016 has led to a tightening of the regulatory environment around the provision of safe drinking water, she explained. Questions are also being asked around whether there is enough transparency around water services compared with other services, she said.
While councils are dealing with affordability issues around growth and infrastructure, they also need to provide services that are affordable to their communities, which will require a more strategic approach. “We (central government) will be discussing this later this year,” she added.
Waipa district councillor, Susan O’Regan, asked Ms Mahuta for her views on legislation surrounding the creation of Māori wards on local councils. “The government has a number of sensibilities due to our coalition partner (NZ First),” she said, adding that this issue has already been brought up by a number of mayors. She pointed to the provision for a poll in local government legislation – whereby if a Māori ward was voted for by councillors, five per cent of voters can demand a poll and possibly have it overturned – as a barrier to the establishment of Māori wards on council.
“The poll creates an unfair barrier to local communities contemplating Māori wards and drives the debate into a negative space,” she said.
“Wards can be established for rural communities without a poll, however Māori wards can’t be.
“Where councils have encouraged Māori representation there is a more mature and sophisticated approach to what the council is grappling with,” Ms Mahuta explained.
She then urged those gathered to unite behind the cause of amending the legislation. “It would be really helpful if a consensus of the willing could make a representation to change the legislation,” she said.
Ms Mahuta finished by saying she hoped that the audience can feel that the Labour government is different, with a greater emphasis on accessibility. “We can’t do everything by ourselves and we don’t intend to. Engaging on the front end will give traction going forward,” she concluded.