Hide: Rift proves no place for board

Rodney Hide, left, and Dr Pita Sharples. Photos / Northern Advocate and Mark Mitchell
Rodney Hide, left, and Dr Pita Sharples. Photos / Northern Advocate and Mark Mitchell

Conflict over funding for Auckland Council's Maori board shows why it should never have been legally required, Local Government Minister Rodney Hide says.

Auckland Council caused controversy by proposing the city's Maori Statutory Board get $5.4 million over two years.

It backed down and last night cut the board's budget for this financial year from $2 million to $950,000 and next year's from $3.4m to $1.9m.

Board chairman David Taipari today confirmed the board will go to court to challenge the funding decision.

When setting up the new council, the Government ruled out separate seats for Maori after Mr Hide threatened to resign.

Instead a statutory board was set up in legislation to advise on committees dealing with the management and stewardship of natural and physical resources. The board said it would make appointments to 11 of the council's 18 committees.

"My concerns about having this board in statute have been borne out because it is inherently divisive and controversial," Mr Hide told reporters.

But the council still retained control over how money was spent.

"I made it very clear that I wouldn't introduce legislation that would put seats around the council because then those un-elected members would be controlling the budget," Mr Hide told reporters.

"As it stands the council controls the budget and only elected members are on the council so ultimately the responsibility is with the council."

Maori Affairs Minister and Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples said people needed to accept the board had legal powers and Mr Hide should resign if he could not accept the situation.

"Minister Hide is now responsible for the law passed by the Parliament. Calling the board an advisory body, or saying he didn't want it, is not helpful. If he cannot accept the decision, Mr Hide should carry out his threat to resign.

"A major slashing of the board's budget is not an auspicious start to the relationship. Before matters get worse, there should be urgent and open negotiations for a funding agreement, as the Act intends.

"I also hope the board's appeal to the court for a declaratory judgement is simply a way of clarifying uncertainty, and does not set a pattern of adversarial relationships between the council and the board in future," Dr Sharples said.

Mr Hide said Cabinet made the choice to include the board and he was not responsible so would not resign.

"It never occurred to me that the National Party would agree to put people on the committee with voting rights."

It would be up to National voters to assess the decision but Mr Hide said the party had not adhered to its philosophy of one law for all.

However he said the council's move to reduce the budget was democracy in action and the council could constrain the board by having fewer committees dealing with natural resource issues.

Mr Taipari said the board was in the process of hiring legal representation.

"I think that what I have become concerned about is the misinformation and the internal agendas in council which are ending up using the Maori Statutory Board as a political football."

The board had a legal requirement to do a job and it had used independent advisors when drawing up its budget.

He hoped for a speedy resolution.

"People are quick to assess and to judge Maori people - not just Maori people but other races as well - rather than giving us the proper benefit of the doubt that we're working for the best of everybody."

The Council of Trade Unions said the Government blocked the Maori seats on the council so should step up and fund the board.

- NZPA, NZ Herald staff

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