Mayor may add weight to Maori legal action

By Claire Trevett, Bernard Orsman

Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Auckland Mayor Len Brown is considering an approach from the Maori Statutory Board to join High Court action that seeks to clarify the funding row for the board.

The board yesterday confirmed it was going to court to challenge a decision by the Auckland Council to slash its budget.

On Monday, councillors voted to cuts its budget for the rest of the financial year from $2,066,000 to $950,000 and from $3.4 million to an indicative $1.9 million in the 2011-2012 draft annual budget.

The bill for legal costs will come out of the board's $950,000 budget for the rest of this year, according to a council spokesman.

Following a board meeting at its offices in the former Auckland Regional Council headquarters, board chairman David Taipari said the purpose of the court action was "clarification, not confrontation".

"The proper and responsible way to establish what the law means is by seeking a declaratory judgment from the High Court. It may be that the council itself would like to join in seeking such a judgment, and we would welcome that as a way forward."

Mr Taipari said the board was also writing to the council setting out its views of its powers and inviting the council to meet with the board again to continue discussions about the board's role and finding.

Last night, a spokesman for Mr Brown said the mayor and council wanted to continue working closely with the board to work its way through issues created by the Government.

The mayor would consider an approach to join the legal action once the board's letter had been received, he said.

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples also urged the parties to open urgent and open negotiations before matters got worse - but noted the council's slashing of the budget was not an auspicious start.

Dr Sharples turned on Local Government Minister and Act leader Rodney Hide, saying he was responsible for the law setting up the board.

"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," Dr Sharples said.

Mr Hide had told National in 2009 he would resign his portfolios if Maori seats were introduced on to the new council.

Instead the board was agreed on by the Government as a compromise, and Dr Sharples said Mr Hide should get used to the idea.

Mr Hide said the stoush showed the board was "inherently divisive" and should never have been included in the legislation setting up the new council.

He was always opposed to giving unelected board members voting rights "and it never occurred to me that the National Party would agree to put people on the committee with voting rights".

Asked if it was a breach of faith, he said it was up to voters to decide.

"I always assumed the National Party would stick to its principle of one law for all and in the event, they decided to go against my advice and put a person on the committee who would have a vote."

He believed it should be up to the council - not the Government - to decide if such a board should exist. The current council had already given the board a role that was well beyond what the legislation envisaged and it was now up to ratepayers to decide if it was value for money.

Labour leader Phil Goff said Auckland ratepayers would now have to foot the cost of the legal action simply because Mr Hide had refused to allow Maori seats on the council.

- NZ Herald

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