Concerns mount over lack of candidates in Māori wards

By Whatitiri Te Wake

Māori ward advocates are deeply concerned at the lack of nominations for the new seats at this year's local bodies election.

This year 35 councils across Aotearoa will introduce Māori wards but, with tomorrow the cutoff date for nominations, advocates say the biggest opportunity ever for Māori to have a voice at council could be lost.

Jill Day led the charge for Wellington City Council to implement Māori wards. As of today, there is only one candidate to contest the one vacancy on the Wellington council.

“I think the change does lead to more engagement. So, when we start seeing more Māori around the table as of right, we will see people engaging with that because there will be a belief that our voices can be heard and change can happen.”

Day was the first wahine Māori to be elected to Wellington City Council. She says the journey to establishing Māori wards was intense.

'Disappointing' - minister

“It was a bit of a journey to get councillors' heads around it but I think it was a really strong vote in the end. It's exciting.”

Despite that excitement, the low number of nominations has caused some concern for Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson

“Disappointed. We have a lot of work to do. We have to activate and motivate our people to stand up for these positions and get our people voting,” he said.

A recent survey showed just under half of elected members experienced abuse and discrimination. Day says this could be a deterrent.

“It does take confidence and a community around you to support you because there are times where it is different,” she said.

The 2019 elections saw the smallest number of candidates fielded in local elections. There are fears that it could be even smaller this time around

“That's been our big challenge is that councils haven't seemed relevant to our communities,” Day said.

With nominations closing tomorrow at lunchtime, advocates continue to push to get more Māori candidates in the race.