The first wahine Māori to be elected mayor of Rotorua says she has a lot of work to do.
The 15th Rotorua Lakes mayor Tania Tapsell (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Whakaue) had more than 6,200 votes in her favour. She was first elected to the council in 2013, making her the youngest elected councillor in the country at 21 years old. She has had three terms on the Rotorua Lakes Council, and also ran as a National candidate for the East Coast in 2020’s general election.
Tapsell is taking a strong stand on emergency housing in the city, and the damage it's causing to tourism in Rotorua, and is also opposed to the government’s Three Waters reforms.
“We have a regulatory responsibility to look after our buildings and make sure they're being used in the way they are consented for,” she says. “These motels are supposed to be used for short-term tourism accommodation but they've been used for residential living for emergency housing for well over two years. So we do need an exit strategy for that.”
She is also against Māori wards for the council, having voted voting against it last year. Despite this, she is still supportive of Māori councillors elected with her and across the country.
Tania becomes mayor almost a decade later into her local politics career.
“There were a lot of whānau that were surprised that now, with the establishment of Māori wards they could only vote for, in our situation, only three Māori councillors as opposed to all councillors at large.
“Unfortunately, we now have less Māori representation at the council by restricting to only three seats. We had four councillors before so the big question needs to be asked - how do we move forward to enable a better reputation but also enable our whānau, our voters, and our communities to be able to support and vote for the best counsellors at the table.
“You always have to be careful what you wish for.”
As one of three Māori women elected as mayor, Tapsell believes she is a game-changer in New Zealand politics and says more wāhine Māori as mayors is “a long time coming”.
“I think the real success for us is that we are showing other Māori, other wāhine across the country that, if you are willing to work hard, this is the space for you as well."
Tapsell hopes to see the country have its first wahine Māori prime minister soon. Meanwhile, she will have three years to prove whether Rotorua will be a better place under her mayoralty.