A significant step in Maori representation on Hawke's Bay councils was made with Wairoa set to become the first to establish a dedicated Maori seat and Napier voting in a Maori councillor for the first time.

Additionally, the Hastings District Council will have more Maori input with the election of former council rural board member Bayden Barber as one of the council's eight Hastings-Havelock North Ward members.

In a poll run aside the local elections, Wairoa electors voted 1553 to 1359 in favour of the establishment of Maori wards on the council, while in the Napier council election Apiata (Api) Tapine was elected as one of two Nelson Park Ward representatives, holding a 206-votes preliminary results buffer in ousting one-term councillor Mark Hamilton.

The Wairoa council, a district wide body of six, without wards despite the urban-rural split, now has the role of proposing how it will look, in time for the next election in 2019. It is expected to remain within the number of six councillors.


It's supported by mayor Craig Little who urged putting it to a poll and now wants to get on with the job of making it happen and work, on a council which already has higher-than-average numbers of Maori than most.

The election of Mr Tapine in Napier was a surprise to some, being not widely known as a leader in Maori circles before sitting councillor Maxine Boag announced in April she and he were running on the same ticket under the banner "Working Together."

Mr Tapine was known among those close to him as an effective director of the EIT's
Maraenui outreach centre, while the now-ousted Mr Hamilton had a profile as a managing director of Alexander Construction, a former chairman of sizeable Napier rugby club Tech Old Boys, and as a councillor starting to be touted as a possible future mayor.

An indication of Mr Tapine's lower profile was that he was unknown to former council kaumatua Heitia Hiha, who as a co-opted member chaired the council's Maori Advisory Committee.

Mr Hiha, a retired school teacher now aged 84, was a council candidate 18 years ago, but yearned for younger Maori to step up, and sought out prospects largely without success. Among those who have stood since was veteran social worker and employment advocate Jim Morunga, who was unsuccessful at the last election in 2013.

A Nelson Park constituent, Mr Hiha had to do some research on Mr Tapine when he learned of the candidacy, and is rapt with the outcome. "We will give him all the support we can," he said.

Mr Hiha had been long active in affairs including Treaty claims in the region, notably WAI55, known colloquially as the inner harbour claim and which relates to the waters, reclaimed land and resources of the once much-more expansive waterway known historically as Te Whanganui a Orotu.

His bid for a council seat in 1998 was sparked most by the impact of the Government's devolution of the Department of Maori Affairs, which dispersed some Maori issues to local councils.

But in Napier there was no position for Maori to be in the decision-making. "The council had the Maori Advisory Committee, but we had no power to make any decisions," he said.
Ms Boag, another with a teaching background and now elected to a fourth term on the council, said she approached Mr Tapine a year ago asking if he would consider running with her.

"I felt Nelson Park, with its high proportion of Maori residents, needed genuine representation of its people at the council table, preferably someone living or working in Maraenui," she said.

"Api was the perfect candidate: well educated, well-spoken, caring, Ngati Kahungunu, with strong connections to many in the ward," she said. "He was living and working in the area, as Regional Learning co-ordinator for the EIT outpost in Maraenui."

She had worked with Mr Tapine for several years on shared projects, and said she had seen his ability and knew he was the right person to balance out the ward representation - "and that we could share the work I was trying to do in the community."

But she stressed: "Api's election as the first Maori councillor in Napier is historic; but he is not there because he is Maori, or to represent all Maori. He was elected by the diverse population of his ward because they feel they would best represent them at the council table."