Kawerau councillors vote 'no' on Māori wards

By Will Trafford

Kawerau district councillors have decided not to establish Māori wards in time for the next local body elections.

Councillor Aaron Rangihika told The Beacon he had consulted tangata whenua and they were comfortable with representation in the region.

"This chamber works really well currently ... and I believe the representation within this room is well suited to this community," he said.

Surrounding areas including the Whakatāne District Council have established Māori Wards.

Mayor Malcolm Campbell told The Beacon his bigger fear is Kawerau would become ‘a ward of a bigger council as a result of a government review on councils.’

The 6000 strong population of Kawerau is 61.7% Māori. It faces unique economic and social headwinds.

Unemployment rates soared to more than 25% following the closure of the Pulp and Paper Mill last month.

The Mill was the region’s largest employer and cost the community 160 jobs.

Timber processors have cautioned the government the industry faces insurmountable challenges by subsidised overseas competitors and more closures could follow.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Māori Television's Tapatahi the Ministry of Social Development would support laid-off workers to find new jobs.

The Māori wards decision means Kawerau will continue to be represented by one mayor and eight councillors and without community boards or wards.