Maori ward ‘must be effective, meaningful’

It is not about only ticking a box — establishing a Maori ward in the Invercargill City Council needs to be effective and meaningful, a Waihopai Runuka kaumatua says.

Michael Skerret believed discussions on a Maori representation at the council’s table were long overdue.

The council is undertaking a representation review which includes the possibility of introducing a Maori ward. However, Mr Skerret believed the formula was not fit for purpose.

‘‘One seat is not really enough. There are two marae in the Invercargill area, Awarua and Waihopai . . . We need at least two positions, just for a start, and it should be tangata whenua positions.’’

He believed the correct representation would happen ‘‘eventually’’ and welcomed the council’s consultation.

However, he highlighted the importance to council in fulfilling the constitutional obligations of the Treaty of Waitangi.

‘‘It is not just about having a voice there. It is about being effective and to have something meaningful.’’

In February, a government law change meant councils which opted for Maori wards could not have those decisions overturned by referendums, forced by community petitions.

Community panel member and councillor Rebecca Amundsen said it was an important time to consider the matter of Maori representation.

The proposal would be to have one representative on council’s table, as happens in a general election, Ms Amundsen said.

‘‘People who are on the Maori roll can vote for the Maori candidate or electorate.

‘‘One thing that means, is people who would be on the Maori roll would be only able to vote for the person on the Maori ward . . . but they still get to vote for the mayor as well.’’

She said the flip side would be that person would be speaking for and representing the Maori community and their views.

‘‘I think it is the positive thing about it. It doesn’t mean people who are Maori can’t stand for council as well. But I guess the important thing if we have a Maori ward is that person has a mandate from the Maori community to speak on behalf, and act on behalf of them.’’

When questioned about the comments from Mr Skerret that the representation would not be enough, she believed the law would not allow for more than one person on the Maori ward.

‘‘There are other examples like Waikato or Hamilton . . . they, at the moment, have an advisory panel or advisory group made up by the different iwi. Maybe that is something that would be better suited here.’’

Council would also consult on a number of other changes including more community boards, and whether to continue with 12 councillors and a mayor.

She believed this was the time when the community had been invited to have their say.

‘‘At the moment, we don’t have any people from other cultures, apart from Kiwis and we are getting a more ethnically diverse community. How can we better hear or include their voices in the council? People with disabilities, we have only three women in the council . . . and the whole thing about the age.

‘‘We are probably missing a whole group who, actually, their voices are not getting heard or, you know, brought in the conversation as well as it should.’’

Feedback from the community would contribute to council’s final proposal, which would also be consulted upon again, before being adopted and implemented in time for the 2022 elections. 

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