New councillor shows promise for relationships with iwi

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

Gisborne District Council's new councillor is the youngest ever elected.  Isaac Hughes, 27, says the council needs to work really hard to realise partnership on equal standing with Māori.

“My name is Isaac Hughes, I grew up in Waipiro Bay and Tokomaru Bay, Marotiri is the maunga, Kaiawha is the river, Ngāti Porou is the iwi that nurtured me even though I'm Pākehā. I'm now living in Tūranga Nui a Kiwa, working at BDO as an accountant.”

In a by-election where just 7994 people voted, Hughes won by a margin of 1314 votes.

“It's important every vote I got I want people to know, so people can hold me to account, efficiency both in terms of our money and in terms of our time, working well with the community, spending its money, as if it's our own, and then sustainability, environmental. Obviously we're quite lucky here with our environment, and it's a selling point both for residents and tourists, so it's important that we sustain that. Further to that also, spending in a way that's going to be future focused and not create fix-up jobs in the future so putting that money up-front so we don't have issues down the line.”

Hughes, on his first day as a councilor, spoke strongly in support of Māori wards when the council voted unanimously in favour.

'Annoying half my base'

“It was a tough call for because in general I want a lot more Māori representation, I was just nervous that the Māori wards would actually in a way work against that by restricting some of the votes and people's voting options, and it left candidates like me almost with nothing to stand on because I stand in the middle of both two camps and got votes from both sides, and either way I voted was annoying half my base. But for me at the end of the day the people who were most affected were Māori, it's what Māori wanted, and for me I care deeply about representation and increasing voter turnout and community involvement.”

Hughes is a former chair of the Gisborne District Youth Council, and says council has work to do to realise partnership with Māori.

“The important word here that I've heard in partnership, and so not being an optional voice or a voice 'you go' thing, but actually working in partnership, and being equal on the same standing, so I think the council has got to work really hard towards that, and I think it's improved over the past few years, just even in terms of bilingual signage, simple things like that, and you know, we do have the most Māori on the council that we've ever had, it needs to improve but it's getting there.”

Hughes wants to increase community participation and engagement with the council for the benefit of the community.