A PETITION demanding a referendum on whether Maori wards should be established in the Whakatane district has been launched.
On November 14, the Whakatane District Council passed a resolution to establish one or more Maori wards in time for the next local government elections with six councillors voting in support and five against.
In response, a small group of residents has launched a petition on a website demanding a referendum on the issue of Maori wards.
Section 19ZB of the Local Electoral Act 2001 provides that if more than 5 percent of the electors enrolled as eligible to vote at the previous local body election sign a petition demanding a binding poll on the issue, then it must be held.
To invoke a referendum on the issue of Maori wards, the petition must receive at least 1161 valid signatures. It has been forecasted that a referendum could cost $40,000.
Spokesman for the group, David Dowd, said it was not necessarily against the inception of Maori wards in the district, but wanted to be able to provide the public with an opportunity to have their say.
He said the group believed the decision should be made by the Whakatane district population – not just councillors.
“We have every reason [to believe] that the number will be reached. Early responses from a number of people have given us to believe that there are plenty of people that believe it should be a poll of the whole population rather than that of six out of 11 councillors.
“Those councillors that opposed it talked about that; that in the interest of democracy [the council] was not the best place for the decision to be made.
“All five of them said that this was not the right way to do it and democracy would be better served by having a referendum.”
Mr Dowd said 10 years ago, the council held a referendum on the issue and 70 percent chose to pass up the proposal to create Maori wards.
“I have no doubt that in the end what we are going to have will be different from what we had last time. But it is anyone’s guess to how different it is going to be. It will be very interesting to see what it is.”
He encouraged anyone wanting to sign the petition to visit the group’s website, wardswhakatane.com.
Currently, the Bay of Plenty and Waikato regional councils are the only local authorities in the country with separate Maori representation.
The Bay of Plenty Regional Council established three Maori constituency seats in 2001 through the passing of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council (Maori Constituency Empowering) Act 2001.
It enabled three Maori wards based around the Western Bay
of Plenty (Mauao) Central/south Bay of Plenty (Okurei) and the Eastern Bay of Plenty (Kohi).
In August 2012, the Waikato Regional Council added two Maori constituencies to six general wards for the 2013 elections. The decision was made by the council and no request for a poll eventuated.
The Wairoa District Council decided to introduce Maori wards and a poll was held at the 2016 elections.
The poll approved Maori wards by a slim majority of 54 percent of the votes. Maori wards will be created in Wairoa district at the 2019 local body election.
No other district or city has successfully implemented Maori wards where a poll has been requested. All others have been overturned through a binding referendum poll process including Nelson City Council in 2011, Waikato District Council in 2012, Hauraki District Council in 2013, New Plymouth District Council and Far North District Council in 2015.
Other local authorities are considering the introduction of Maori wards, such as Palmerston North City, Western Bay of Plenty and Matamata Piako district councils.
Several councils have considered the issue over the last decade and have, in consultation with their local iwi, opted to include other forms of involvement such as Maori Consultative Committees, Iwi Chairs forums or Maori Statutory Boards.
Rotorua District Council did not proceed with Maori Wards in 2014, but instead created the Te Arawa Partnership Plan, which was approved in May 2015 despite heavy opposition. Two representatives nominated by the Te Arawa Board sit on the council’s two main committees with voting rights.
The Masterton District Council approved the appointment of unelected iwi representatives, with speaking and voting rights, to its standing committees in May 2016. They also have speaking rights at full council meetings.