Tairāwhiti Māori to elect five councillors in Māori seats

By James Perry

Deputy Mayor Josh Wharehinga says it’s a dream come true to have five seats in the council chamber elected directly by Māori voters.

“The fact that we get to retain the Māori ward, and we have five Māori seats in the Māori ward is absolutely massive."

Gisborne District Council will have five councillors elected in the Māori ward after clearing the final hurdle with the Local Government Commission.

The commission has accepted the GDC’s proposal to create two wards, Tairāwhiti General and Tairāwhiti Māori ahead of this year's Local Government Elections. The council will comprise a mayor and 13 councillors – eight general and five Māori.

“Even though our council had asked for a Māori ward, andfive seats on the Māori Ward, and even though our community has said ‘yes please, Māori ward fantastic five seats in the Māori ward,' I was still a little bit like, oh, man, one last hurdle to get over," Wharehinga says. "To get that confirmed yesterday was absolutely, absolutely wonderful.”

Better decision-making

Having at least five councillors representing Māori interests gives Wharehinga confidence that local issues impacting large Māori communities across Te Tairāwhiti will be better represented.

“More Māori councillors on our district council is only good for the district because there's a huge gap in terms of knowledge around in terms of generally Māori from Te Tairāwhiti.

“Those issues will be slightly different, still Māori centric, but slightly different based upon whether you're at Matakaoa, whether you're at Waipiro Bay, whether you're at Tokomaru, Te Karaka, Manutūkē. So having that wider lens and wider whakaaro Māori around the council table will only make our decision making better.”

Wharehinga, who intends to stand again for council at the election, is buoyed by the possibility of having Māori voters turn out in higher numbers this year with the prospect of more Māori candidates being guaranteed a seat. He says simply having more recognisable faces for Māori voters has already cleared a significant barrier.

“We've already jumped the first hurdle where we have a space for Māori to be able to run because we've always had Māori run, it's not like Māori haven’t. But just the gap between those feeling enfranchised by the system and those feeling disenfranchised by the system, largely Māori,  is closing.”

The challenge now is getting Māori voters ready to vote in October.

“There is still quite a lot of Māori whoare on the general roll, so they won't be able to vote for those standing in the Māori seats, and then also vice versa. So that's the only part of the comms but that's just the functional thing,” Wharehinga says.

Other council determinations

Meanwhile, the Local Government Commission also today confirmed Hawke’s Bay Regional Council will have two Māori wards, with Māui ki te Raki and Māui ki te Tonga having one seat each on the 11 person council.

Wellington City Council will have one councillor representing the Māori ward of Te Whanganui a Tara. The neighbouring city of Porirua will feature one councillor elected in the Māori ward of Parirua.

Further north, Horowhenua District will have two councillors elected in the Horowhenua Māori ward.