Historic day as Parliament passes co-governance bill

By Will Trafford

Waiata and haka ring out across Parliament's debating chamber following the passage of the Ngāi Tahu Representation Bill. / Parliament TV

Parliament has passed a bill that enshrines into law a right for South Island Iwi Ngāi Tahu to appoint two of Canterbury Regional Council’s 16 councillors.

Ngāi Tahu leaders and Canterbury Regional Council members were at Parliament last night to witness the third and final reading of the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill.

Labour’s South Island Māori electorate (Te Tai Tonga) MP Rino Tirikatene said the bill’s passage was an "historic day for both Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and the Canterbury Regional Council".

Waiata and haka rang through Parliament’s debating chamber following the bill’s passage.

“It is about recognising the responsibility that Ngāi Tahu has as kaitiaki of the air, waters, land, and coast of the region and enabling them to perform that duty,” Tirikatene said.

"Ngāi Tahu are entitled to this representation. They're entitled to this representation because that is the promise of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and this is a modern-day expression of that promise.”

Forty representatives of Ngāi Tahu were present for the bill’s passage, including kaumātua Tā Tipene O'Regan.

“Finally, we're seeing the principles of a modern Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership reflected in local body politics, with the proposed bill giving Ngāi Tahu an official voice and vote on te ao tūroa (the natural world) within our takiwā (tribal area),” Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu kaiwhakahaere Lisa Tumahai said.

“This is an example of the evolution of conventional democracy to ensure all voices are heard in the decision-making process.”

“Decision-making will be enhanced by two Ngāi Tahu councillors representing mana whenua of Waitaha Canterbury, bringing a richness and diversity to the council table.”

Both National and ACT voted against the bill, arguing it destabilises democratic principles of ‘one person, one vote’.

“The bill will give Ngāi Tahu the right to appoint two councillors. Since Māori will have had an equal vote in the appointment of the other 14 councillors, this arrangement gives Ngāi Tahu voters extra voting power," National’s justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said.

Labour’s South Island Māori electorate (Te Tai Tonga) MP Rino Tirikatene celebrates the passage of the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill alongside Ngāi Tahu leadership and members of the Māori Caucus. / Rino Tirikatene via Facebook

Labour’s South Island Māori electorate (Te Tai Tonga) MP Rino Tirikatene celebrates the passage of the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill alongside Ngāi Tahu leadership and members of the Māori Caucus. / Rino Tirikatene via Facebook

Goldsmith argued because the Ngāi Tahu appointments were permanent, the appointees would not be held accountable for decision-making.

“The universal principle that politicians are better behaved when they know they can be thrown out at the next election will not apply for these councillors in Canterbury," Goldsmith said.

Labour MP Tāmati Coffey put out a call to other iwi, arguing Ngāi Tahu had shown change was possible to ensure mana whenua existed in local government.

"Ngāi Tahu has opened the door. And for that reason, all of those iwi out there that are struggling with how representation works for them in their rohe, I hope they understand this is a potential pathway," he told Parliament.

Goldsmith, however, attacked the bill’s passage as ‘anti-democratic and divisive’ and said National pledged to repeal it were it successful at next year’s general election.

“Equal voting rights and accountability at the ballot box are basic principles and National will restore them.”

“It’s astounding that any party should have to make such a promise, given most Kiwis take equal voting rights for granted, but that basic principle is being undermined by the Labour government.”

Public Interest Journalism, funded through NZ On Air