The decision to guarantee Maori representation on the Western Bay District Council has been described as ''patronising nonsense'' by Hobson's Pledge spokesman Don Brash.
Dr Brash, the partner of Western Bay councillor Margaret Murray-Benge, was responding to the council's 9-3 vote this week to establish Maori wards.
Hobson's Pledge Trust was a lobby group formed to "arrest a decline in irreversible separatism" in New Zealand.
Dr Brash, who last year refuted claims that the group was racist, was concerned at the recent increase in Maori seats in local body politics.
The former National Party leader said the council's decision implied that Maori were not capable of being elected on their own merits and had to have special assistance.
Brash said the deputy leaders of the National and Labour parties were Maori, as were the Leader and Deputy Leader of New Zealand First.
''They got there on their own merit, not because some paternalistic Pakeha gave them preferred status,'' he said.
When asked how the Western Bay council was being patronising when the decision flowed out of a near-unanimous recommendation from the partnership forum of councillors and Western Bay iwi representatives, Brash said if someone offered him a special break, then of course he would want it.
''Why would Maori not say, give us a special break,'' Brash said.
The partnership forum comprised 19 iwi representatives, Western Bay Mayor Garry Webber and 11 councillors.
Asked why Maori council candidates seldom got elected in the Western Bay, he responded that only one woman (Cr Murray-Benge) got elected to the current council. ''But does that mean they don't represent women? No.''
Brash said Hobson's Pledge would help organise the petitions needed to trigger polls to challenge the decisions of the councils that had agreed to introduce Maori wards. The others were Whakatane, Palmerston North and Manawatu.
He said Hobson's Choice was talking to someone who would work with volunteers to get the signatures. In the Western Bay District, signatures from 1708 residents on the electoral roll were needed to trigger a poll of all voters.
Graham Cameron (Ngati Ranginui) said Maori voting rates in council elections were even worse than the poor overall interest. This low turnout affected the ability of the Western Bay council to make decisions that were in the best interest of the whole community.
''How do we ensure governance connects to the voting public.''
Cameron said that under the current first-past-the-post system, the relatively small number of Maori voters in the Western Bay meant they were always going to struggle to get elected on to the existing wards. If the system was proportional representation, more Maori would get elected.
He disagreed with Councillor Murray-Benge that Maori wards were a form of apartheid. Cameron said Maori had been enormously important contributors to the growth of the Western Bay.
''Maori wards should not be seen as a threat to power and control of local government. All we want is a stronger voice for this part of our community.''
He said the special relationship between the Crown and New Zealand's indigenous people set out in the Treaty of Waitangi was the foundation for Maori wards and other forms of representation.
''To my mind, the Treaty is enduring and the foundation document for our society.''
A public poll on Maori seats
Deadline for demand for poll: February 21, 2018.
Deadline for poll: May 21, 2018