A big push has started to convince Western Bay District residents to support Maori having their own seat on the council.

Roadside signs have started going up around the district asking voters to tick the Maori Ward option on the referendum paper.

The referendum was forced on the council after it voted 9-3 last year in favour of having a Maori Ward.

Opponents responded to the vote by gathering 4500 signatures - more than enough needed to decide the issue by a binding referendum of all the district's eligible voters.


Reon Tuanau said the tick yes campaign was based on fairness, equity and collaboration, summarised by the campaign's key phrase of 'Moving Forward Together'.

In a direct rebuttal of the message put out by the petitioners, Tuanau said a Maori Ward did not represent separatism.

''Our plight is one of democracy. General wards represent their constituencies, a Maori ward would represent its constituency.''

And unlike speculation that two Maori wards would be created if the poll was won, he said the intention was to have one ward.

Tuanau, the chairman of the Tauranga Moana-Te Arawa ki Takutai Partnership Forum, said Maori comprised 14 to 15 per cent of Western Bay's population and had a much younger age profile.

Added to this was the rising importance of Maori enterprises and businesses, with about 27 per cent of the country's $43 billion Maori economy asset base based in the Bay of Plenty and Waikato.

He argued a Maori seat would lead to a 10-fold increase in the council's understanding of the needs and concerns of tangata whenua.

''It is a voice at the table to talk about issues from a Maori perspective. It would enhance the cultural identity and wellbeing of tangata whenua.''


He said it was all about demonstrating the confidence and trust in each other to do the right thing. The Western Bay District's ward system was based on communities, so the council was already working off a structure similar to Maori wards, he said.

Tuanau said they were asking a completely different question to the separatism question posed by opponents of a Maori ward. ''We are asking, will you support unity.''

The campaign included a series of public meetings aimed at not only encouraging more Maori to vote on the referendum but to get the message across to non-Maori whose support was essential to get the pro-Maori ward vote across the 50 per cent threshold.

''We need to get the message out there to everyone.''

Voting papers for the $70,000 referendum are being sent from Friday, April 27. Electors have until noon on Saturday, May 19, to return them.

Public meetings on the ''Yes - Maori Ward'' campaign
April 27: Talisman Hotel, Katikati, 11.30am to 2pm.
May 2: Vector Group Charitable Trust, 130 Jellicoe St, Te Puke, 10am to 1pm
May 3: Maketu Surf Club, 5pm to 7pm
May 4: Omokoroa Settlers Hall, 4pm to 7pm