Nikki Preston

Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Council poll on Maori seats avoids 'egg on face'

The Waikato District Council has been told it could have had "egg on its face" if it stopped a $73,000 poll asking the community if they wanted better Maori representation.

Waikato Mayor Allan Sanson said the council had little choice about conducting a poll on introducing Maori seats because Tainui had indicated it would present a petition with enough signatures legally requiring the council to consult the community if it stuck to the status quo.

A poll asking the community if they wanted better Maori representation - which under the existing structure would mean replacing three of the 14 general seats with three Maori seats - will be held by postal vote on Wednesday, April 4.

The council voted 9-5 in November for the poll. Councillors against the move said informal surveys of their wards showed little support for it. They were also concerned the community would be voting without all the facts.

But Mayor Sanson said a poll was imminent whether the council approved it or not.

"Considering they [Tainui] had actually asked us, we didn't have a lot of choice.

We either had the choice to reject it or go to the poll because they could have ... made us poll.

"Now if that had happened I suppose you could have said we were the ones sitting there having egg on their face."

Maori councillor Moira Solomon felt Maori would be more comfortable dealing with other Maori and also hoped it would encourage more to vote.

"A lot of people say we are all New Zealanders. OK, we are all New Zealanders - that's really good. But we can offer a perspective; good things. I'm biased, of course, and I am the only one on the council who is Maori."

However, councillors Jan Sedgwick and Noel Smith were concerned the community would not have all the information before voting, including what the make-up would be and how the council engaged with Maori.

"I asked a range of people in my ward what their thoughts were, and I took these back to the council in the form of retaining the status quo," Mr Smith said.

"In my opinion the Waikato District Council does a sterling job of ensuring the Maori voice is heard."

It was the only council in the Waikato with a joint management agreement with Tainui which had eventuated to a joint committee.

Mr Smith was also concerned the community would be asked to vote without knowing exactly what they were voting for.

The council is also next month beginning a representation review which will look at the number of seats from 2013. The outcome of this would then determine how many Maori seats there were.

The decision by the district council to poll follows decisions by Hamilton City Council to run a referendum at next year's election asking the community their preference from 2016.

The Waikato Regional Council voted to introduce two Maori seats from 2013.

- NZ Herald

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