Maori wards & appointments Q&A

ARE MAORI NEW ZEALANDERS TREATED DIFFERENTLY
IN LOCAL POLITICS? 

Questions & Answers 


* ARE COUNCILS OBLIGATED TO LET MAORI MAKE THE DECISIONS (more than other members of the community)?

No, they are not. The Local Government Act 2002 does not confer special rights and privileges on Maori that are not accorded to other members of the public and it states very clearly that councils must prioritise the good of the whole community.

What it does do, however, is require councils to:

1) "provide opportunities for Maori to contribute to the decision-making processes of the local authority”, and

2) "consider ways of fostering the development of Maori capacity”.

So Councils have an obligation to consider what steps can reasonably be taken to encourage and assist Maori to participate in local affairs. That’s why most councils have established Maori Liaison Committees and Advisory Boards.
The law does not require them to do any more than that.

The law certainly doesn’t require Maori to have casting votes on Council decisions, nor that tribal demands to be automatically ceded to, nor for Maori to be given preference over the rest of the community.


* WHO ARE “MAORI” IN THIS CONTEXT?

The legislation doesn’t define the term but in practice, it tends not to apply to individual Maori people; rather councils deal with representatives of the local tribe(s), sometimes hapu (families) or other “Maori” organisations.


* WHAT ARE MAORI WARDS / SEATS?

Maori seats are separate, race-based positions on Councils reserved for people identifying as Maori. They are voted for exclusively by a Maori constituency (wards). The candidates only care about gaining advantages for their Maori supporters, not the community as a whole.

Maori candidates standing for these seats do not have to compete with other candidates from the general community, but they are, at least, open to some competition from other local Maori willing to and with the resources to stand against them every electoral cycle. Importantly, they are voted in, if only by those registered on the Maori electoral roll.

Environment Bay of Plenty became the first Regional Council to have separate Maori representation with the 2001 Maori Constituency Empowering Act. Since then, amendments have been made to give communities the option of creating Maori wards for cities or Maori constituencies for regions. They can be created by the Local Authority or by a poll of electors. Whether instigated by council or by a petition demanding one (must be signed by 5% of the electors), the council must hold a poll, the results of which are binding.

(In contrast, citizens wanting a country-wide referendum on an issue of national importance have to submit a petition to Parliament signed by 10% of all registered electors within 12 months and the outcome is non-binding.)


* HOW DO APPOINTMENTS OF MAORI DIFFER?

Race-based appointees are given their places by their tribal peers (not necessarily voted on by ordinary members). These appointments can be with one or more of the following:

a) full speaking and voting rights on recommendation-making committees;

b) speaking rights at full Council meetings;

c) voting rights at full Council meetings.

These people receive ratepayer-funded salaries, perks and power without having to go through the effort and expense of the election process, i.e. no justification for their policies, no challenges from pesky ratepayers, and no advertising or promotional costs.

Such race-based appointments cannot be validated or questioned by the community in any way; they cannot be overturned by a public referendum; they cannot be voted out.

Appointees inherently support “the hand that feeds them” i.e. their sponsors. This can lead to serious bias, rampant greed or even corruption (as no one is able to challenge them, maybe not even the tribal members they supposedly represent).

In most cases, these individuals are drawn from either the bureaucracy or the tribal elite.

Such unelected, self-interested appointees with voting rights certainly alter the balance of power. They have the ability to swing votes to favour private interests, enabling tribes to pursue agendas that may not serve the community as a whole.
Race-based seats/appointees flagrantly ignore the democratic principle of one-person-one-vote. While democracy has created stable nations, tribal/race-based preference creates dissention, resentment, corruption and poverty.


* HOW DO URBAN & RURAL WARDS DIFFER?

All local body regions can be divided into Urban or Rural wards. They are geographic in nature, representing ALL people within their boundaries. Their candidates are subject to the normal electoral process, competition and expense, and can be elected by the adults registered on the electoral roll in that ward. No one is included/excluded because of their identifying ethnicity.

No one group or organisation (e.g. Federated Farmers, the Exclusive Brethren, the Women’s Welfare League) can control who can stand or who can vote.


* WHAT ABOUT GOVERNMENT APPOINTMENTS?

Government can appoint Commissioners to replace elected councillors should they prove to be dysfunctional or if the Council is becoming insolvent. Examples include Rodney District Council in 2000 and Kaipara in 2012. Such situations usually arise because of bad decisions made by an incompetent council and council staff.

Such an appointment is usually short-term in nature, with the objective being to fix the mess in time for the next election cycle.

Commissioners are chosen for their professional expertise by the Local Government Minister, not by any racial grouping or private organisation.


* ARE SPECIALIST APPOINTMENTS TO COUNCIL A GOOD OR BAD THING?

Councils can form sub-committees to review specific areas of council performance as well as ensure legislative compliance (e.g. audit and risk). These CAN include one or more appointees with specialist expertise (say, in accounting). These people may/may not have voting rights.

Specialist appointees are chosen for their expertise. They are not chosen for their ethnicity, nor are they chosen by any select group. They are accountable to the public at large. Their appointments are made for a set term (in contrast to the permanence of the race-based appointments).


* CAN MAORI APPOINTEES INFLUENCE OUTCOMES?

Yes, they can, as evidenced in Auckland City Council. The mayor has the power of allocating people to sub-committees formed to review issues and make recommendations to the full council. Such recommendations are usually agreed with, simply because councillors’ workloads cannot cope with checking what has been reviewed by others.

A racial-biased mayor can place the Maori appointees on their preferred sub-committees. In Auckland’s case, this has often meant that 2 out of the 6/8 people on a sub-committee are racially motivated (i.e. 33% or 25%). If the councillors’ votes are likely to be spit 50:50, then the Maori votes ensure the racial-preferred option wins every time.