Auckland super city to establish Māori ward?

By Tumamao Harawira

Auckland mayor Phil Goff has made a commitment to push ahead with his agenda to establish a Māori ward in Māoridom’s biggest city.

“It’s been Auckland Council’s governing body's view for some time that we wanted to have Māori representation in the same way we have representation in Parliament.”

His comments come as Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta this week decided to reform the law, which allows a council’s decision to establish Māori wards, to be challenged by a ratepayer petition of only 5% of ratepayers.

The changes mean existing petitions to overturn Māori wards in three districts would become invalid, as the changes kick in ahead of the 2022 council elections.

Mayor Goff says although the groundwork has been laid to establish a Māori ward in Auckland, there are still roadblocks that need to be overcome.

“There needs to be a change in another piece of legislation, which requires us to disestablish a ward to create a Māori ward.”

Tyranny of the majority

Although happy with the Mahuta's decision, former mayoral candidate John Tamihere doubts Goff's commitment.

“We run into the tyranny of the majority. It’s about how you put balance and braces on the tyranny of the majority, and it remains to be seen whether Goff can rise to the occasion.”

The current law allowing citizen-initiated referendums was created in 2001 and since then only two of the 24 councils that tried to create Māori wards succeeded.

In 2014, the then New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd resigned following a referendum that overturned the council’s decision to create a Māori ward. Last year New Plymouth District Council again voted to establish a Māori ward for the upcoming 2022 elections. A petition to trigger a referendum was launched shortly after the decision.

According to John Tamihere, Māori have always been discriminated against in local council representation.

”Māori were pepper potted. We were disallowed from living together, so Māori are still coming back from racist policies such as pepper potting.”

More wards?

The law reforms would occur over the next three years – starting with immediate changes to uphold council decisions for the next election.

A second stage would set up a permanent process for councils to follow when considering creating new wards.

The changes would encourage other councils to look at adopting the wards – because it has pushed back the deadline for a decision to May 21 this year.