A decision was made to introduce Māori ward seats at Gisborne District Council in November 2020. Mayoral hopefuls in Tairāwhiti are supportive of the Māori ward system. Photo / Liam Clayton / Gisborne Herald
By Local Democracy Reporter, Matthew Rosenberg
Mayoral candidates in Gisborne and Wairoa have shown overwhelming support for Māori wards, but there are differences in opinion on other key election topics.
The findings are the result of a first-of-its-kind survey conducted by Local Democracy Reporting. Journalists across the country canvassed 291 mayoral candidates on key issues including Māori wards, Three Waters, climate change and rates increases.
This election, just over a half of councils (34) are including Māori wards as an option - many for the first time.
Candidates around the country were asked if the wards were an effective way to increase Māori participation. Nearly half (48.5 percent) believed they were.
A quarter (26.2 percent) were not sure and 25.2 percent rejected the proposition.
At Gisborne District Council, a Māori ward has been introduced for the first time this election.
Mayoral candidates who responded to the survey said they supported the introduction.
"In Tairāwhiti we are 50 percent Māori and 50 percent Pākehā, so it makes sense to ensure that we have good representation around the council table in order for all voices to be heard," incumbent Mayor Rehette Stoltz said.
Rhonda Tibble said having a Māori ward ensured there was advocacy for diverse Māori needs in Tūranga.
"The previous system marginalised Māori advocacy and visibility, creating low trust for voters," she said.
Colin Alder also supported the ward, saying it helped ensure the Māori voice was heard in policy-making.
Darin Brown, the fourth mayoral hopeful for Gisborne District Council, did not respond to the survey.
Wairoa candidates expressed a similar sentiment towards the wards.
Wairoa District Council introduced its Māori ward in 2019 as the result of a 2016 representation poll where 54 percent of voters ruled in favour of the change.
Mayor Craig Little said introducing the ward had been positive because it engaged Māori, while giving candidates in both wards more confidence to stand.
"Wairoa is fortunate it has always had a diverse mix of demographics across our elected members," he said.
Benita Cairns said the introduction of the ward had increased the number of Māori candidates while Simon Mutonhori said it was a progressive way of getting Māori involved in decision-making.
Murray Olsen said the ward had been good for Wairoa but engagement with the community could still be improved.
Fifth Wairoa mayoral candidate, Jennifer Takuta-Moses, did not respond to the survey.
On the topic of Three Waters, nearly all candidates expressed unanimous disapproval. Cairns and Tibble said they were not sure.
Cairns said the reforms could bring the investment required, but she wasn't convinced it would bring the improvements and savings the government had promised, while Tibble said it was "crystal-ball analysis" until the details were made specific.
A question on whether councils should spend ratepayer money on climate change initiatives was met with unanimous support from all candidates apart from Mutonhori who responded he wasn't sure.
"Climate change as it relates to properties at risk is a national issue which should be addressed by government and insurance companies to manage staged retreat," Mutonhori said.
The fairness of this year's rates increase proved the most polarising of the four questions asked of mayoral candidates.
Stoltz, Little and Mutonhori all described the rise as fair, while Alder, Cairns and Olsen said it wasn't. Tibble said she wasn't sure.
Voter turnout in Gisborne is lower than in 2019 and 2016 in a trend repeated across the country. The voter turnout is 21.7 percent in the Tai Rāwhiti General Ward and 15 percent in the Tai Rāwhiti Māori Ward.