Govt tampering irks councils

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher. Photo: ODT files
Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher. Photo: ODT files
Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher has called a government move to tamper with Māori wards inconsistent and unfair.

Mr Kircher and 51 other mayors and chairmen signed a letter last week to Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and other ministers.

The government is set to introduce legislation in the coming months to restore the ability for communities to petition their councils to hold binding polls on Māori ward decisions.

This will include holding binding polls on wards that were established without local referendums being able to take place.

Mr Kircher said the government never consulted with councils on the issues and running polls would cost a "signficant" amount.

"If they’d come and ask us then they would know the answer is no."

Māori wards and constituencies are designed to allow Māori to contribute to decision-making and have representation at council.

They are voted for on the Māori electoral roll. Candidates do not need to be of mana whenua descent, or Māori.

Mr Kircher said Waitaki did not have 10% of its voters on the Māori roll, which meant it would need to increase the number of councillors to facilitate a Māori ward.

The council already had 10 councillors, which was high considering the population and it already worked closely with mana whenua.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and Te Rūnanga o Moeraki chairman Justin Tipa said they had put a lot of time and effort into their relationship with the council across many different kaupapa (policies).

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu had not made any formal statements for or against the legislation.

"Our view is that the Treaty relationship as it relates to local government is between local government authorities and mana whenua.

"It is completely fair for mayors like Gary to speak out when they feel that central government is interfering with their ability to manage their relationships with tangata whenua themselves", Mr Tipa said.

Mr Kircher said the government was overreaching.

"It’s about bringing consistency into it."

The bill was defended by Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, who said the "true democratic process" would be restored.

Mr Kircher said he wondered why Mr Peters did not support the need for a poll for other changes in council issues, such as councillor numbers, ward changes or the creation or abolition of community boards.

"If central government seriously want to give local democracy, then make the polls a requirement for all points or even better make it a requirement for some of the things they do."

Stuff reported that Local Government Minister Simeon Brown responded to the letter, saying he disagreed with the mayors’ and chairpersons’ assertions.

He said the coalition government believed communities should determine whether to introduce Māori wards.

"This government believes in localism and in letting local people decide their constitutional arrangements", he said.