Aug 26, 2011

South Island Council's slap down Maori

Disappointing to see the Waimate and Timaru District Councils have refused to consider creating Maori wards. Race relation conciliator Joris De Bres wrote to all regional/city/territorial authorities urging them to consider establishing Maori wards. De Bres also requested information on the number of Maori on each Council. Some Councils considered the idea, for example New Plymouth (they decided against the idea), others are considering the idea, like the Gisborne District Council, while some refuse to even consider it (Timaru, Waimate and a host of others no doubt). As well as refusing to consider the idea of Maori wards the Timaru and Waimate Councils also refused to confirm whether they had any sitting Maori councillors.

Consider this from the Timaru Herald:

The Timaru council's acting chief executive, Peter Nixon, has no idea of the ethnicity of the district's mayor and 10 councillors. He said they were not required to tell him of their ethnicity, and he had replied along those lines to Mr de Bres.

There is little to no information around Maori representation at local government level. Any efforts to gain a better picture should be supported. Pity that this Peter Nixon doesn’t realise the value in knowing who and how many Maori councillors there are.  

He did not intend putting the matter of Maori wards before the council as previous councils had decided against such a move because only about 6 per cent of the district's population considered themselves Maori.

Just because a previous council dismissed the idea does not mean the present council, or a future council for that matter, will reach the same decision. Previous councils don’t bind future councils nor create any sort of persuasive precedent.

I despise, with a passion too, the notion that minorities are somehow disqualified from representation. The idea that there is some sort of magic threshold that grants the right to representation. Clearly this Peter Nixon thinks 6 per cent does not meet the magic threshold. This is the tyranny of the majority. This Peter Nixon thinks, no thanks, we’ll keep our monopoly on power. A sad stance, but hardly unexpected.

If one of the council's 10 existing seats was to be declared a Maori ward, then Maori would be over-represented, Mr Nixon said.

This Peter Nixon is incredibly superficial. Maori wards are about giving effect to the Treaty principle of partnership and ensuring Maori interests as tangata whenua, and by extension as kaitiaki etc, is recognised at a meaningful level. Maori wards, i.e. having Maori councillors, ensues Maori issues are handled appropriately and Maori views understood correctly.   

Maori exclusion from local government is the chief cause of voter apathy. Maori are not going to participate in a system that is seen not to serve them and, indeed, does not serve them. Hopefully we will see more councils consider the idea of Maori wards and, fingers crossed, we will see some actually implement the idea.

For a valuable discussion on Maori and local government see this post from earlier in the year.


  1. Excellent post Morgan. The situation is most glaringly unfair in those Districts that currently operate under a ward system. Councillors are elected from existing separate wards, the explicit rationale being that such wards safeguard council representation to distinct communities of interest, i.e. the residents of certain towns, areas, or even land usage in the instance of rural wards. The accepted (and practised and endorsed year after year for decades) logic is that without separate wards, the residents of these locales would be denied a voice at the council table.

    By denying ward status to Maori, while simultaneously awarding "special" representation rights to others based simply and exculsively on where they choose to reside, councils are repeatedly denying the obvious truism; that Maori have a distinct community of interest - at least equal to (and most would say much greater than) extant wards.

    An immigrant steps off a plane and is instantly granted superior democratic privilege to members of our most seminal community, based solely on where he or she chooses to reside. A simple choice of address confers more representation rights than 800 years of continuous occupation and contribution. What happened to one law of representation for all?

    High time some young lawyerly types took this argument up with a vengance (when related to electorate MPs, it also justifies Maori seats in perpetuity).
    If not, Maori will continue to be massively under-represented, and the current crop of middle-aged white male bombasts will continue to slowly but surely shift the rating burden to the poor. (That's another story, but suffice to say that the LG rating system, via UAGCs and user-pays targeted rates, is now the most regressive taxation system in the world. Decision-making by local communities is headed for oblivion, Auckland and Canterbury just the start)

  2. While I concede the concept of Maori seats at local government can be considered,especially as historically Maori have been underepresented at local government level, such seats should be considered as a nessescary evil at best, as they undermine the central principle that all should be considered equal before the law, and non-rascism.

    Incidently I think 4 Maori councillors were elected to the Auckland Super-city (one Jami-Lee Ross has since become the MP for Botany in a byelection, so that brings the numbers down to 3), which I think was around 20% of the council, down to now 15%, both cases being above the last census percent Maori (and given that Maori are disproportionately young perhaps the correct comparison should be with the voting age population). This happened despite the controversial decison not to include Maori seats on the Auckland council. I will concede that this is one election and one council, but if the trend continues it will prove the lack of need for Maori seats (atleast in Auckland).

    I consider a threshold for minority representation reasonable asuming such seats are to be created. It would strike me as undemocratic having 10% of seats on a council for 6% of the population (less if we consider that many Maori might want to be on the general role). What is particularly ironic is Maori advocating for disproportionate representation of certain groups (non-Maori) in this case given that Maori were historically victims of this in that prior to 1996 the Maori seats were capped at 4, when for much of their history on a population basis Maori would have been eligible for many more seats (or should we say that the colonialists were right in having Maori underepresented so that minorities in certain geographical areas could be better represented?)



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