National set to block Maori seats

By Claire Trevett

Debate over Maori seats in the Super City led to a protest march through downtown Auckland in May. Photo / The Aucklander
Debate over Maori seats in the Super City led to a protest march through downtown Auckland in May. Photo / The Aucklander

The Cabinet is expected to reject Maori seats on the Auckland Super City council today.

This follows a week marked by disquiet within National, and Act leader Rodney Hide admitting he had told Prime Minister John Key he would resign as Minister of Local Government rather than have his name on legislation introducing the seats.

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples and Mr Hide will present a joint paper pleading their cases when the Cabinet discusses the issue today.

Dr Sharples is expected to argue for at least two Maori seats and Mr Hide for none.

Although Dr Sharples has watered down his initial proposal, the Cabinet is expected to stand by its initial reaction to the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance's recommendations and not include Maori seats.

It is not known whether a final decision will be made or announced or whether Mr Key will wait until the select committee considering the Super City has reported back.

He would not comment yesterday.

But the Prime Minister is likely to be keen to get the issue out of the way.

It erupted last week after the release of an email from National MP Tau Henare revealing mixed views in the party's caucus and complaining that Mr Hide was holding the Government to ransom over the issue.

Mr Key has consistently refused to say which way the Government is leaning. But it is understood National's caucus has rejected having separate Maori seats on the council.

Mr Henare's email reveals there were mixed views on it, and Mr Key will need to be careful to ensure it does not seem as if the Government is yielding to an ultimatum from Mr Hide.

It will not help that on TVNZ's Marae programme yesterday, Mr Hide revealed Mr Key apparently considered changing his mind and approving the seats, suggesting National introduce them in an amendment to the Super City legislation.

Mr Hide said Mr Key suggested this to get around Mr Hide's resistance to introducing such a measure himself.

It would allow Act to vote against the amendment without voting against the whole bill, but it could still be passed with support from National and the Maori Party.

Mr Hide rejected the suggestion because the amendment would still then be included in his legislation.

National's long-standing policy has been to oppose having Maori seats on the Super City council, and the Government did not include them in its initial response to the Royal Commission's recommendations in March.

The Royal Commission recommended three Maori seats - two to be elected by voters on the Maori roll and one to be appointed by a mana whenua forum, an advisory group to the council made up of local iwi representatives.

The Maori Party remains committed to having the mana whenua seat and Dr Sharples has proposed an electoral college to determine who is eligible to stand for it.

Dr Sharples could not be contacted yesterday, and Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said she did not know about the Cabinet proposal he had worked on.

Mr Hide has rejected accusations he was trying to force the Government into taking his side by saying he would resign.

He said he made his stance known to Mr Key on June 3 when he was asked for his views on Maori representation on the council.

He had not intended his response to become public and it had not done so until Mr Henare's email was given to TV3.

"I did not say I would step aside by way of threat or to affect the decision-making.

"I wanted to put it on the table up front rather than wait until they decided and then say, 'I'm standing down'.

Act's caucus and board had supported his stance.

Mrs Turia has accused Mr Hide of playing up the issue to try to get votes. Yesterday, when asked on Marae how the Maori Party would respond if the seats were rejected, she said it would wait until the decision was made before deciding.

- NZ Herald

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