In the second part of a Rotorua Daily Post series on election issues, senior reporter Matthew Martin looks into iwi representation on the Rotorua Lakes Council.
Rotorua Lakes Council's Te Tatau o Te Arawa Board caused a storm of controversy before it was officially formed last November.
It was the catalyst for the formation of the Rotorua Pro-Democracy Society - now known as the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers group and won the council the Martin Jenkins Judges' Choice Award for Outstanding Value and Service Delivery for its work putting the board together at the recent Local Government New Zealand AGM.
Two of the board's 14 elected members each sit on the council's Strategy, Policy and Finance Committee and Operations and Monitoring Committee, with voting rights, and one sits on the council's Resource Management Act consent hearing panel.
However, any decisions made by those committees can be overturned by the council.
Board chairman Te Taru White said iwi were here for the long-haul and considered themselves guardians for future generations.
"Their connection physically and spiritually to the land is inseparable.
"It is this history and mindset that adds considerable value to our community, not forgetting the generous gift of land to establish the Rotorua township.
"This, coupled with the significant land-based assets they own, the economic potential, projected growth in the iwi population - particularly youth - provides good reason why their representation on council is important.
"Their voice needs to be heard and Te Tatau o Te Arawa through the partnership model was mandated by Te Arawa to be that voice.
"While there is a legal imperative to consult with iwi in local government legislation this area remains a constant challenge nationally. Tatau, tatau - we are in it together."
Maori Party co-leader and Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell said it had always been the party's policy to defend and promote indigenous representation in local, regional, national and international decision-making bodies.
"Our party actively supported the establishment of Te Arawa partnership model and we will continue to support efforts by Te Arawa to ensure they have a voting right and therefore a real say at the table of Rotorua Lakes Council and Bay of Plenty Regional Council.
"More and more iwi are realising that they can no longer afford or leave crucial decisions that affect their way of life, in the hands of others. We applaud their pursuit of tino rangatiratanga at a political level in their areas.
"The time for sitting back and watching others make decisions that affect their whanau, marae, hapu, iwi, land, waterways, other natural resources and overall, their future, has ended so it makes our party really proud when we see Maori put their hand up in local body elections," he said.
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Te Arawa and all other iwi are extremely important to the future of Rotorua. Councils in the past have proved that we can not advance without help.
The Bay of Plenty is a place that Te Arawa was proud to call home, now their home is shared by those who now reside in this beautiful valley.
We are now a multi-national mix of citizens that make up this city and with collaboration many businesses have developed Rotorua into one of the seven wonders of New Zealand still functioning today.
The current council committee structure implemented in a spirit of 'tatau tatau' to hear the voice of Te Arawa is highly inefficient in my view.
Te Arawa will have greater voice in my council, as will the rural and lakes boards, being sat at the council table itself as policy is debated.
They will not vote however, as only councillors elected by the whole community may legally make council decisions since they are held liable for those decisions and can be removed in the next election by the people if they do not perform.
Appointed Te Arawa board members are not elected by the whole community and cannot be dismissed by them if they do not perform.
The elected Te Arawa board is working really well and the members are participating constructively on the two committees of council. They come prepared to debate and reach decisions.
Their intervention to find another solution for the recovered water from the proposed waste water treatment plant has allowed this project to move to the resource consent stage and this is a win for the community.
Council will review the effectiveness of the board after a year of operating.
They should participate on portfolios in the next term.
We are the envy of other councils seeking an improved partnership with iwi as required by the Local Government Act.
Te Tatau o Te Arawa Board is a physical presence representing the seal and covenant we have with God.
It is not a choice for Te Arawa, it's our divine calling, we cannot escape it and it's the reason why we have eight beating hearts so we can't fail.
Te Arawa belong to Lord God the creator and we are God's chosen kaitiaki (guardians) for mai I Maketu ki Tongariro maunga.
Initially I was unsure of how effective the Te Tatau o Te Arawa board would be and as a result I opposed Te Arawa representation as I felt all Maori should be represented.
Having worked with the appointed Te Arawa members I have been grateful for their guidance and expertise so far.
I would not immediately remove the members as I consider that to be an unnecessary retrospective action.
I do believe a review would be prudent in the future.
I firmly believe that fair representation of all members of our community is vital for our success.
The Te Arawa board nominates two members to each of the two standing committees of council, one member to the three-person RMA policy committee that determines land use, and one member to the Chief Executive's Performance Committee.
The recommendations from these powerful committees are rubber stamped by council.
In my view the partnership shares council's powers with one partner giving it disproportionate power compared to non-Te Arawa Maori and all non-Maori.
Nominees have voting rights but answer to their board, not to citizens.
They govern without the consent of the governed and can't be displaced.
Treat the election as a referendum on this co-governance partnership. Vote for democracy.
Then council and our new committees of council (Works, Finance, Public Services and Regulations) can invite policy advice from the Te Arawa board, the Lakes and Rural community boards, stakeholders and individuals. And policy decisions can be made only by elected representatives on council.