A decision to establish a Māori ward in Tauranga has been described as "massive" for the city, but a challenge to the decision is brewing.
Tauranga City Council voted 6-4 yesterday to establish the ward for the next council election in 2022.
It also voted 8-3 to give voting rights to tangata whenua appointees on four council committees.
The ward decision must first, however, survive a likely public-initiated petition and possible binding referendum - a poll - that could see it overthrown, as it has in other councils.
The spectre of a poll, however, did not appear to dampen celebrations in the council chamber moments after the decision, which took many by surprise.
The public gallery was filled - as much as social distancing restrictions would allow - with tangata whenua, including Waiariki MP Tāmati Coffey.
He said the decision was "massive" and he was overwhelmed by it.
"It was a meeting where it could have gone either way," he said.
"There are some views among councillors who have been outspoken against Māori representation in local government."
Coffey commended councillor Jako Abrie, who referenced Tauranga history and the Treaty of Waitangi partnership that appeared to be lacking in the make up of council's elected members.
"Jako, what a champion," Coffey said.
"He spoke of the injustice that was used here, on this soil which I think a lot of people in this day and age suffer from amnesia in terms of [the land they stand on]."
Coffey said he was saddened to hear comments from some councillors who felt Māori wards were not needed.
"It still baffles me our tangata whenua are asking for one Māori ward. It's just one voice around the council. We are still fighting over crumbs."
Through tears, Kathryn Bluett-Atvars said she could not believe the "historic" vote.
"To see that Tauranga Moana and city council has passed this is an absolute treasure. It's a way forward," she said.
Bluett-Atvars said she had resigned herself to be disappointed so was surprised when it was passed.
Puhiraki Ihaka,former chairman and current member of Te Rangapū Mana Whenua o Tauranga Moana Partnership - which asked the council to establish the ward - responded to the decision with "jubilation and elation".
The kaumatua said local iwi and hapū had appealed to the council twice before to gain a Māori ward but never made it this far.
"The previous two times we didn't even get past first base. It was never passed by the council, we would never have got to the next step."
Now, local Māori have.
"It's amazing. At least now we have something positive to work with in terms of preparing for a very probable poll," Ihaka said.
Tauranga council manager of strategic Māori engagement Carlo Ellis said some people "who gain safety from knowing the poll option is there".
"But it's still massive. If we did not get past this stage, there's no other part of the conversation."
Ellis likened the journey to crossing a river.
"You have to step on that first rock and as you do, there's still that anxiety inside but every step is a good step, as long as we do it together."
Tauranga MP Simon Bridges said in his opinion, the issue must go to a poll.
The decision to add a new ward, and a new vote around the table, should be made by the community, he said.
"Changing votes like this should be for the people, not councillors."
Margaret Murray-Benge, a Western Bay of Plenty District councillor and Tauranga resident who opposes Māori wards, said she would petition Tauranga City Council to force a poll.
The petition would require the signatures of 5 per cent of electors to trigger a poll, the results of which would be binding for two council terms.
The council could initiate a poll itself, skipping the petition step.
The Māori ward issue must be settled before the council could complete a wider representation review that must be done before the election, and which could see changes to other wards or councillor numbers.
Multiple speakers in the meeting rejected Murray-Benge's comments in Tuesday's Bay of Plenty Times likening the ward to a "backdoor".
Matire Duncan, independent chairwoman of iwi and hapū collective Te Rangapu, said Māori were following process.
"We are not coming in through the back door, we are being active with due process because the Local Electoral Act says we can."
The meeting debate started with Abrie's presentation of pictures of Tauranga's elected members from the last 17 years.
"You might notice some trends," he said. It has been more than 20 years since Tauranga elected a Māori person to the council.
Local government was supposed to represent the diversity of the community, Abrie said, but only one of New Zealand's "two peoples" under the Treaty of Waitangi had a voice on the council.
Mayor Tenby Powell, who also backed the ward, said the system had failed Māori for a long time, in Tauranga and nationwide.
"With 20 per cent of the population, in my view, unrepresented, it concerns me greatly that there isn't a voice for our mana whenua here at council."
"Tauranga City Council has the opportunity here today to lead New Zealand."
Councillor Andrew Hollis called the idea of a Māori ward was "virtue signalling", "divisive" and the "opposite of democracy" in a speech that drew annoyed murmurings from the public gallery.
"The idea that his group of 11 elected members does not have the empathy or impartiality to consider the wants of all residents of the city ... is, quite frankly, insulting," Hollis said.
Councillor Steve Morris said he believed the city was less prejudiced than it was when Māori were last elected in the 80s and 90s to ward seats.
He wanted the council's four at-large seats replaced with geographic ward seats and councillor numbers increased to 12 to "enhance democracy". This would have seen a Māori candidate elected in the last election, he said.
Bill Grainger's vote for a ward surprised some as he spoke against giving tangata whenua committee representatives voting rights.
He told the Bay of Plenty Times after the meeting that only the community should decide who can vote.
The ward issue would likely go to a poll so the people would have a say.
He said he voted for the ward because "times are changing".
"It is important that we give that opportunity for a Māori seat."
Maori ward: How they voted
For: Mayor Tenby Powell, deputy mayor Tina Salisbury, councillors Jako Abrie, Heidi Hughes, Bill Grainger, Larry Baldock.
Against: Councillors John Robson, Andrew Hollis, Steve Morris, Kelvin Clout.
Abstained: Dawn Kiddie.