Hamilton would be taking a step backwards for the city and New Zealand if the next city council decides to drop the system of appointed iwi representatives on council committees, says one of the current appointees, Bella Takiari-Brame.
In 2018, Hamilton City Council approved the appointment of Māori representatives – known as Māngai Māori, or "The Voice of Māori" – one on the growth and infrastructure committee, two on the community and services committee, one on finance committee, and one on the regulatory hearings committee.
Once the current council term expires, the Māngai Māori will wait for a new mayor and council after the October elections to decide on what governance structure to adopt. It does not have to include Māngai Māori.
Hamilton News asked a range of Hamilton candidates standing in this year's elections and the Māngai Māori themselves if they thought the system should be continued. At the moment, there do not appear to be any major concerns about continuing the system, with only two ward candidates against the concept.
Māngai Māori Ms Takiari-Brame said that dropping the Māngai Māori – which she said was a first for New Zealand and one other councils were now considering – would be a step backwards for the future generations of Hamilton.
"With 60 per cent of this city living in high deprivation a model with Māngai Māori has to be a positive step towards solving these issues. What is good for Māori is good for New Zealand," Ms Takiari-Brame said.
Last month, Waikato District Council voted unanimously to support the appointment of Māngai Māori in principal, but is leaving it to the next council to decide after the October elections.
The five Māngai Māori are Bella Takiari-Brame, a chartered accountant; James Whetu, the director of the Whetu Group; Norm Hill, who has 19 years experience in environmental management; Olly Te Ua, who has served in the New Zealand Defence Force; and Te Pora Thompson-Evans, a public health specialist.
The Māngai Māori are representatives from Mātāwaka, Te Runanga o Kirikiriroa, Te Haa o te Whenua o Kirikiriroa and Waikato Tainui.
For Hamilton City Council, the appointment of Māngai Māori was a step back from the often controversial debate early in the council's term about the introduction of Māori wards and seats at the full council.
Nominations close with 41 standing for HCC seats
At the time of their appointments, Mayor Andrew King said that council must provide opportunities for Māori to be involved in council discussions.
"Anything less than a voice and a vote around our council decision table is tokenism," Mr King said.
"Together we agreed on a model, avoiding division in our city which would had been a step backward, not forward," he said.
The appointed Māngai Māori do not sit on the full council. They get to speak and vote only at committee meetings, they do not sit on all of the council's committees.
On one occasion, the Māngai Māori asked mayor Andrew King to include in his chair's report to a full council meeting a review of Hamilton street names, and then made a verbal submission on the item in the public forum - a normal part of each full council meeting.
The council does not choose who the Māngai Māori are, with that responsibility falling on iwi, however the council makes the final decision on those appointments.
The council retains the right and discretion to review the positions of Māori representatives on the committees at any time during a triennium, and to discharge members if that is considered appropriate in the circumstances.
Hamilton mayoralty candidate James Casson said that while he supports Māngai Māori, he would prefer Māori being democratically elected.
"At the moment it seems a gesture as Māngai Māori have no say in full council meetings. I would like to see a public referendum on the positions and have Māori democratically elected," Mr Casson said.
Current city councillor Garry Mallett, who is standing In the West Ward again this year, and East Ward candidate Matthew Small both said that they do not support Māori on council committees unless they are elected by voters.
Mr Mallett told Hamilton News : "The "Māori only" positions, by definition, discriminate based on race." They are hideously racist," Mr Mallett said. "I tend not to support things I abhor especially things I abhor 'hideously'.
"Who do the unelected Māori reps actually represent? I'm a councillor. I'm elected by my ward and I represent the entire city. Who the heck do the unelected 'Māori only' reps represent."
Mr Small, who is running for council for the second time said: "Regardless of the ethnicity, age, or gender of a candidate, people should be voted on merit and show that they can represent all communities in Hamilton equally."
First time council candidate Kesh Naidoo who supports the Māngai Māori said it is a temporary solution to help increase Maori engagement.
"If continued, we need to look at how Mangai Maori members are selected - I was told that some members are not even local to Hamilton.
"I think we need to look at the big picture, and be more pro-active with Maori engagement," Mrs Naidoo said.
Hamilton News contacted all five Māngai Māori to ask their views on being appointed to council committees; only Ms Takiari-Brame and Mr Te Ua replied.
Mr Te Ua, who sits on the community and services committee said that "while it has been a good start, the Māngai Māori need to be given the opportunity to bed in through a full trimester and then be reviewed."
"The Māngai Māori roles are a great way for ensuring that the voice of the Treaty partner is being heard and have some influence in the chamber."
Ms Takiari-Brame, who sits on the finance committee, chaired by Mr Mallett, said the reception from council staff and other councillors has been positive, but that more representation is needed for Māori.
"It has been an honour to serve this city alongside elected members. I acknowledge the professionalism of my chair Garry Mallett also.
"I am also proud of the council staff who will always acknowledge the Māngai Māori and introduce themselves in te reo.
"We could always do with more there are other committees that we are not part of. Given we provide expertise to each of the committees we sit on I am sure our contribution has added value."
What the candidates think
Before nominations for the HCC elections closed, Hamilton News asked the known candidates for their views on the appointment of iwi representatives to council committees. Here are the responses received:
Rob Pascoe - I support the present Māngai Māori representation as members of the major council committees. The response from Tainui and local Iwi in this round has been to provide very skilled people to the various committees. This has resulted in both positive outcomes for Māori and the city. I would readily support this into the next council term.
Meleane Burgess - I am an avid supporter of diversity and equal representation around the council table. I acknowledge that council needs to represent the diversity of the Hamilton community and those living here, something that council is currently missing. On this basis, I would support having Māngai Māori as part of the council's governance structure and value the positive input they would bring to assist council to make more informed decisions.
Kesh Naidoo - Māngai Māori is a temporary solution to help increase Māori engagement. If continued, we need to look at how Māngai Māori members are selected - I was told that some members are not even local to Hamilton. I think we need to look at the big picture, and be more pro-active with Maori engagement. Why not resource initiatives run by Māori for Māori to address engagement.
Lisa Lewis - Yes I do support Māori representation around council and I will support Māori as part of the council's governance structure next term.
Siggi Henry - Yes I support having Māori representation around the council committee table. And I support it for the next term as it adds historical and cultural value to our discussions as well as adding diversity to our council.
James Casson - I support Māngai Māori seats on council but in future would prefer Māori seats being democratically elected as at the moment it seems a gesture as Māngai Māori have no say in full council meetings. I would like to see a public referendum on the positions and have Māori democratically elected.
Anna Smart - Yes, I do, and I also think it's important to listen to the mana whenua to ensure they are being represented around the table in a way that they feel honours our treaty obligations the best.
Shanti Ralm - Yes, as I am standing for all individuals. I would certainly support our Māngai Māori in all sectors as it is vital. Māori people are the Tangata Whenua (people of the land), and it brings us back to acknowledging the Treaty of Waitangi and coming together to work as "one people" (kotahitanga) to achieve the same aspirations and vision for the area.
Maxine van Oosten - I am concerned about the face of our council. Māngai Māori is an imperative. I support a voice for all in decision making. We can do better and I would vote in favour of extending representation for Māori in the future. Our city will benefit from more diversity.
Angela O'Leary - I support Māori representation although I think there is room for improvement. I think there is an opportunity to improve input into strategic and policy change and will be having these conversations with stakeholders if elected as mayor.
Timothy Young - Yes, I support meeting obligations of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, The Treaty of Waitangi to have a partnership between the Crown and Māori. I think having Māori representation around council's committee tables helps ensure that partnership continues.
Ryan Hamilton - Yes, it has been a positive step in fostering better relationships with Māori and better decision making.
Mark Bunting - Yes, I'm supportive. While I wasn't supportive of it being brought in without community consultation I remain supportive of the concept and have seen it work effectively so far.
Matthew Small - No, regardless of the ethnicity, age, or gender a candidate is, people should be voted on merit and show that they can represent all communities in Hamilton equally.
Garry Mallett - I'm a councillor. I'm elected by my ward and I represent the entire city. Who the heck do the unelected "Māori only" reps represent." No. I do not support "Māori only" seats on council or council standing committees.
Geoff Taylor - Yes I do support Māngai Māori on council committees – but not on the actual council itself. I think a more diverse range of people makes for better decision making. Bear in mind that the Māngai Māori are on council committees – not the full council. There are other committees where we have non-elected members as well. The actual council itself remains only those people elected by residents.
Louise Hutt - Yes, I support Māngai Māori, and would support them as part of council's governance structure next term. Māori representation is critical if we are honouring te Tiriti.
Chris Davis - We need to promote and encourage Māori Council candidates, not just representation on council committees. However, those representatives that are on committees must be able to truly engage with and represent Māori effectively. Engaging Māori youth is just as important as those with knowledge and experience. Effective engagement with, and participation of Māori in Local Government, will go along way towards accepting and acknowledging diversity as well as developing sustainable and united communities.
Brad Hill - Āe mārika, Absolutely. Firstly, according to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Māori have the right to have representation in governance. They are Tangata Whenua of this amazing country which includes Hamilton/Kirikiriroa.
Margaret Forsyth - I do support Māori representation at committee level in council and therefore these seats in the committee structure for next term. I do so because local government is required to recognise and uphold the Treaty of Waitangi and diverse thought including a wider world view experience supports robust decision making. I support open and fully contestable council seats.