Editorial: Maori plan for city hasn't got a chance

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Auckland Council has drawn up a 30-year city plan. Photo / Thinkstock
Auckland Council has drawn up a 30-year city plan. Photo / Thinkstock

Nobody could accuse the Independent Statutory Maori Board of lacking ambition in its blueprint for Maori development over the next 30 years in Auckland. Its plan sets 49 cultural, social, economic and environmental goals, backed by a set of activities. This, it says, will "give direction, guidance and information to the Auckland Council for developing investment and budget bids in those specific areas". Inevitably, many goals - those for education and health, in particular - will not progress further; even the board seems to accept that. Yet it can hardly be blamed for being drawn into this approach.

Board chairman David Taipari says the straying into areas much removed from traditional council roles - roading, water, rates and suchlike - reflects the message from consultation hui. And if those taking part in the hui were looking for inspiration for a wide-ranging approach, they needed look no further than the Auckland Council's own 30-year city plan. The draft, in particular, could hardly have traversed more territory. Its first chapters dwelled not on the likes of transport infrastructure and public services but on the city's social welfare, education and climate change.

It is little wonder the Maori board followed this lead, asking, for instance, for the council to support the establishment of a te reo Maori working group to promote the use of Maori, and to give its backing to compulsory te reo in all Auckland schools. It also wants the council to support financial literacy programmes to ensure Maori business success and to facilitate Maori engagement in trade delegations, foreign direct investment, and so on. "We didn't want to set the bar too low," says Mr Taipari.

Already, however, the Government is resetting that very bar. The type of thinking encapsulated in the Auckland Plan and the Maori board's programme reflects law passed by the Labour Government a decade ago. It broadened local bodies' role to providing for "the social, economic, cultural and environmental wellbeing of their communities". The Key Government takes a different view through legislation that instructs councils to focus on providing "good-quality local infrastructure, public services and regulatory functions" that are "most cost-effective for households and business".

The Government may well be going too far with the adamancy of its stand. A shrinking of local-body autonomy will be the outcome, yet councils are, in many instances, best placed to know what their communities want and need. But the clear message is that the Government is not about to delegate its authority in education or other social spheres, no matter what the Auckland Council or the Maori board would like to happen. The final version of the council's 30-year plan appeared to reflect that reality.

The board may have been late coming to that recognition but, again, there are mitigating factors. The royal commission on local governance recommended that Maori should have three seats at the full Auckland Council table to reflect the distinctive character and interest of that community. Having been denied this by the Government, the iwi-selected statutory board has had to make the best of a far inferior hand. It was hardly surprising that it sought the best possible foothold on council committees by bypassing the council's view on the skills and experience that its appointees should have. Now, it is no less surprising that its 30-year plan to improve the wellbeing of Maori is so far-reaching.

"This," says Mr Taipari, "is what Maori want." It is not what they will get. The Government, let alone the council, will ensure that.

- NZ Herald

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