Māori ward for Whangārei District Council

By Tumamao Harawira

After a nail-bitingly close Whangārei District Council meeting this morning, councillors voted to establish a Māori ward.

That came after a strong debate, with the affirmative camp finally gaining the upper hand in an 8-5 split, with one councillor absent.

"It was whether or not the decision to revisit our decision from November last year, whether that was going to stand up given the change in the electoral act, the amendment. It was a good test," Whangārei District mayor Sheryl Mai says.

On February 1, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced a bill overturning the binding poll rule, collapsing the power of the petitions that were underway to try to force ratepayer polls on the issue.

The Whangārei District Council had received a petition, which would have triggered a poll but it had been discarded, thanks to Mahuta's changes to what she described as “fundamentally unfair” petition rules.

Five Whangārei district councillors were seeking to overturn their council's vote for Māori wards. According to councillor Vince Cocurullo, the choice to challenge the process, shouldn't be misconstrued as racist.

"This is not, and should never be taken as a racial act, and should never be taken as discriminating against Māori."

He believes that the process around Māori wards is undemocratic. 'I'm asking you to relook at this, I'm asking you to bring it back out to the table, so the public can actually have the discussion about it." 

Te Kārearea strategic partnership forum standing committee co-chair Len Bristowe is happy that Māori can now move forward in partnership with the council. "The council has agreed for Māori to stand by the council's side and talk about decisions that affect us here in Whangārei. We have waited a long time for the council to make this decision."

The main focus now for Mai and her council is the bigger discussion: " looking at everything to do with elections, how many councillors, whether there are wards, whether there are community boards, how many people there will be in each of these."

The challenge now lays at the feet of local Māori to get involved in elections, and to elect their first Māori ward councillor