New wards: the pitfalls for councillors

The reluctance of Waipā District Councillors to openly discuss their views on Māori representation is not completely surprising.

Nationally a vocal lobby has historically taken issue with councils who see to add Māori wards – or even add macrons to Māori words.

Their decision to set up Te Kanohi, which comprises four iwi representatives who are placed on standing committees with voting rights, drew criticism from some quarters.

Backing Māori wards can come at a cost. New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd elected to fall on his sword in 2016 after his push for wards was trounced 83%-17% in a referendum.

The chances of a referendum backing Māori seats were always paper thin, and councillors who backed them risked a backlash.

Part of the irony of that was the fact that creating an extra seat would hit those councillors in the pocket. The funding available for councillors does not rise simply because there are more wards.

So any council which votes for a Māori ward will have to redistribute remuneration to pay for the new councillor.
The move to appoint iwi to standing committees has found favour with some council in Waikato and is a move backed by Waikato-Tainui.

Māori wards are not necessarily the first choice for some iwi.
Ōtorohanga District Council made the point to the News that local iwi did not want Māori wards.

It’s suggested that some see an advantage in being able to hand pick iwi representatives to ensure a Māori perspective is a constant at council level.

Despite that, the number of district councils with Māori wards is going to jump from three to at least a dozen in 2022.

Whangārei, South Taranaki, Kaipara, Gisborne, New Plymouth, Ruapehu and Taupō districts, Tauranga City Council and Northland Regional Council have all voted to introduce them.

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