Matthew Backhouse is a NZME. News Service journalist based in Auckland.

Maori Party calls for law change

Co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell will present a petition to Parliament. Photo / Stephen Parker
Co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell will present a petition to Parliament. Photo / Stephen Parker

The Maori Party is calling for a "long overdue" law change to establish Maori wards on every district council in New Zealand.

Co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell will present a petition to Parliament at the urging of New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd, who championed the creation of a Maori ward in his city - a move blocked by a public vote last year.

Under existing legislation, councils can choose to establish Maori wards. However, if 5 per cent of voters sign a petition opposed to such a move, the decision then goes to a binding referendum.

Maori representation on local government has been a heated issue at times, with parties divided at the last general election.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said Maori wards were separatist - a stance backed by the Act and Conservative parties - while National and Labour were not opposed to councils establishing Maori wards if they wished.

Mr Flavell said mandatory Maori wards on every council would give tangata whenua better representation at local government, and would better reflect the make-up of communities.

"Everyone is aware of the low participation of Maori in local government and the existing legislation is clearly inadequate," he said.

"A change is long overdue. The fact that 5 percent of the voting public can challenge any decision related to Maori representation is disheartening and means Maori will almost always be defeated in this process. How is it fair that mechanisms such as these can apply?"

The petition calls for Parliament to consider a law change to establish Maori wards using rules similar to those for setting up other local government wards. Under the Local Electoral Act 2001, no local councils have been able to establish a Maori ward.

- NZ Herald

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