Time for mana wahine to run Far North District Council – Kelly Stratford

By Whatitiri Te Wake

With only one Māori woman ever elected as a mayor in New Zealand, the pressure is on for wahine Māori to increase that number.

Two candidates vying for the top job say the time is now for wāhine Māori to take up the reins and get on with the mahi.

As the mayors and chairs had their official photo today at the Local Government New Zealand conference in Palmerston, councilor Kelly Stratford (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Wai, Ngāi Te Rangi)
stood in the wings hoping that by next year, she will be in the picture as well.

“I have the experience. I was elected at the 2018 election and I have not dropped the ball on any kaupapa that I pushed for,” she said. Today she launched her campaign for the mayoralty.

Of the 78 mayors, 21 are female. The only Māori woman ever elected as mayor was Georgina Beyer in 1995 when she became mayor of Carterton.

Stratford says she is up for the challenge at the Far North District Council.

'Bringing out  the best'

“I do think it’s time for mana wāhine to lead the council and I look forward to leading the wonderful calibre that we're going to have around the table to help bring out the best in everybody,” she said.

These sentiments are shared by Rotorua mayoral candidate Tania Tapsell (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Whakaue).

The odds seem to be in her favour, having dominated in the past two local Rotorua elections.

“I'm very confident but also very humbled to have received more votes than the mayor in the past two elections.

"We're hoping that, with nine years as a councillor, people will still continue to support me.”

Whether they agree or disagree, three waters reforms and water infrastructure are top priorities.

“Most of our wastewater treatment is being discharged into our wai which is not ideal, especially when the treatment process is noncompliant,” Stratford said.

Maintaining local voices

Tapsell says much of Rotorua's three waters infrastructure is sitting on iwi-owned land. "So, when there is the potential that three waters will amalgamate, the loss of our voice, our local voice, that’s also the case for local iwi and hapu.

She says that is why Rotorua has pushed back on three waters reform “because we want to maintain local voice and local management and local decision making”.

Tapsell has been stuck at a cross road between central and local government. Today she confirmed she will not be contesting the East Coast seat at the next election for National.

“Why would I go to Wellington now when my hometown is in such dire need of good leadership. For me, it's about 'let’s fix up home first and then we can potentially go to Parliament later'.”

It’s full steam ahead for these mayoral candidates with the local elections in October.