Te Arawa leaders vow fight for equal representation

By James Perry

Rotorua and Te Arawa leaders are vowing to continue pursuing equal representation on the council even if a bill in Parliament is defeated.

Rotorua Lakes District councillor Merepeka Raukawa-Tait told teaomaori.news ensuring an equal voice for Te Arawa on the council was what counted. 

"In the last election in 2020 I could vote for 10 councillors in Rotorua. Now, with the creation of the Māori wards and because I am on the Maori roll, I can only vote for three and of course, that's not fair."

A bill before Parliament at the moment seeks to ensure the Māori wards and general wards will have an equal number of seats at the council table. Raukawa-Tait said it was vital that the Māori wards had equal representation.

The bill would see 10 councillors and the mayor elected to the council. Three would be elected by voters on the Māori roll and another three would be elected by voters from the general roll, with the remaining four and the mayor elected at large.

Numbers 'irrelevant'

Raukawa-Tait said it was vital that the council was made up that way.

"We will have equal voting numbers - seven each on the Māori roll and the general roll - now what can be fairer than that?" she says.

Attorney-General David Parker has said having an equal number of seats is unfair, based on the general roll having more than double the number of registered voters than the Māori roll in Rotorua.

However, Rawiri Waru, of Te Tatau o Te Arawa said the number of voters on the rolls should be irrelevant if Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and Rotorua specific agreements were taken into account.

"If I'm honest, we'd rather go split down the middle 50/50. Because to Te Arawa, the numbers are irrelevant. The treaty wasn't signed and agreed to by both parties based on numbers.

"I find it a little bit hōha that people keep referring to the Bill of Rights and all these different other things that were imposed on us, not all of our own making, none of our own whakaaro. And yet they bring up this kupu of democracy but democracy only really works for those who have the big numbers. In the Treaty, partnership was really what our people want to see."

Fear of losing power

Though sponsored by Labour MP, Tamati Coffey, some of his colleagues have distanced themselves from the proposed bill. Changes are being considered to the bill but there are also doubts the bill will succeed. 

However, Waru said they would continue to push for what Te Arawa believes is right. He believes a lot of the opposition comes from a position of fear among non-Māori that they could lose power to Māori. 

"But if you look at the history, Māori have long accommodated Pākehā, the most keen to honour the treaties and agreements across the country, so really we should be the ones worried. We will not give up the fight."