Gisborne District Council seeks feedback on Māori wards

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

Nearly 40 hapū and marae within Ngāti Porou are calling for the Gisborne District Council to establish Māori wards in time for the 2022 local election.

Today, their submission was made to council by Tina Ngata, calling for the rights of Māori guaranteed by Te Tiriti o Waitangi to be honoured.

“Thirty-five hapū, trusts, marae, and committees within Ngāti Porou rohe are in complete support of the establishment of Māori wards but furthermore we also call for seats on all council committees with full voting rights as is provided within the Local Government Act (2002)”,  Ngata says.

The Gisborne District Council is continuing its consultations with the community on what it says is a vitally important decision for local democracy.

The Local Government Act 2002 recognises the Crown's responsibility to take appropriate account of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and to maintain and improve opportunities for Māori to contribute to local government decision-making processes.

'Well overdue'

“It's well overdue,” Ngata says. “Under Te Tiriti, within Article III, we are guaranteed the same rights and privileges as British citizens, and Treaty jurisprudence has supported that this means we deserve distinct representation.”

Māori wards establish areas where only those on the Māori electoral roll vote for the candidates. They sit beside the general ward(s), which also cover the whole district.

“Here in Tairāwhiti, we only signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi, we did not sign a document called the Treaty of Waitangi, and that was signed by our hapū rangatira and so, we've just acknowledged and pointed that out, and called for that to be manifested, finally, within our decision making. Our position is that we are positioned best to make decisions for ourselves, and that is what out tīpuna signed up to in Te Tiriti,” Ngata says.

In the Tairāwhiti Gisborne region, nearly 50% of the population identifies as being Māori, which is not reflected in the composition of elected members of the council.

'Extremely racist'

Gisborne District Council deputy mayor Josh Wharehinga also supports the proposal to establish Māori wards.

“In my opinion, it’s time for this initiative. If you look around the country there are a great number of councillors, and councils, who are in agreement with establishing Māori wards, and this is the time for us in Te Tairāwhiti, for our council.”

Under the Local Government Act 2002, a poll on the issue must be held if 5%  of the electors of the district request it via a petition (poll demand). The result of a poll is binding on the council for at least two elections.

“Get rid of it,” Wharehinga says. “It's extremely racist that small paragraph in the Local Government Act. It only applies to Māori wards, it doesn't apply to rural wards, or city wards, only Māori wards.”

There are four public info sessions remaining:

  • November 12 at the Wharekāhika shop from 10am-12pm;
  • November 12 at the Te Araroa I-site from 1pm-3pm;
  • November 15 at the What Now Tūmeke Talent quest in Tokomaru Bay from 8am-10am; and
  • November 15 at the Sport Tairāwhiti Whānau Day, Tokomaru Bay, 11am-3pm.

Feedback to the council can be made online and closes at 5pm on Friday, November 13, and public hearings will be held on November 19.