Every three years all ratepayers get the democratic right to stand for the council and/or elect the councillors who they believe have the skills and judgment to perform and support their views in the best interests of the wider community.
As ratepayers who make up the voting public of the Hastings District Council, you had zero opportunity to question the appropriateness, wisdom and value of adding an additional Māori voice around the council table and with voting rights on the standing committees.
It was fundamentally at odds with the democratic process by which we were all elected as councillors. That is why four of us opposed and voted against the recommendations.
Some other councils throughout New Zealand have Māori Wards to ensure Māori representation. However, back in April 2017 the HB Māori Joint Committee turned down (the vote wasn't unanimous) the opportunity to have Māori Wards for the following reasons: These are their words, not mine:
• It required a referendum and that could be divisive and damaging.
• "Regardless of ethnicity, you get to this table by doing the hard yards – you don't need Māori Wards for that." (At that stage five councillors of Māori ancestry had been elected out of the 14.)
• Māori wards were not necessary to ensure an effective Māori voice on the council.
• We already have a mandate and mana of who we are – we don't need structures like local government for that.
• I do not want my mokopuna coming through Māori wards, I want them standing up through their own mana and capability.
Wind on two years and what has happened?
The first thing that springs to mind was the debacle over the Craggy Range Track. You can rest assured that this never reached the council table or any standing committees until it was near completion. It was a Resource Consent application that was processed by officers. Having an additional Māori voice around the table would have made no difference.
Interestingly, on Thursday March 28 a major protest group about Craggy Range tried to present a petition against having Māori from the Joint Committee being granted a seat around the table. They were not allowed to present their petition and I agree they hadn't followed due process.
When I asked the following day why they had drawn up a petition against Māori representation I was told:
• It was undemocratic and elitist.
• There was no consultation.
• The Māori Joint Committee is selected not elected and if you are not shoulder tapped and asked to apply you have no opportunity of getting on. I ask you how democratic is that? (As an aside, our Rural Community Board is democratically elected.)
• They disagreed with some of the nominations that had been made for the standing committees.
• Māori have shown and have proved they are more than capable of winning a seat on the council through the democratic process.
Conclusion: even within Māori they don't agree whether or not they should have a seat around the table. This is another reason why this entire issue required full public consultation.
Councillors listened to the following reasons why:
• Some other councils around New Zealand have an iwi representative on each of its standing committees. (Mainly because they have no or insufficient representation from Māori.)
• Māori participation on all matters facing our community could bring a broader perspective to how we evaluate issues, and improve the quality of our decisions.
• It will be an improvement on our current model.
• It was provided for under the Local Govt Act 2002 Part 6 Section 82.
• The person/s appointed will have the skills, attributes or knowledge that will assist the work of a committee or subcommittee. (We were informed that no CVs were necessary.)
• There are already Māori/tangata whenua appointments to a number of other regulatory and statutory sub committees. (Non voting.)
• The current Māori councillors have to speak on behalf of everybody; they are not mandated to speak on behalf of Māori.
• We should not underestimate the will in the community to recognise having a Māori advocate at the table can be beneficial to all.
All commendable reasons but hardly earth shattering. Those listed above are the reasons why the majority of HDC councillors decided to go against the principles of democracy that have been fought for throughout the generations.
To quote a retired High Court Judge: "It was a situation that was manipulated to meet their needs/desires and not that of the wider community. Democracy must always prevail for all."
Thank you to councillors Heaps, Nixon and Watkins, who voted against and shared similar reasoning to mine.
Now I look forward to reading the reasons from those councillors who supported the recommendations for their perspective and their justification as to why they voted the way they did.
I am sure you, our voting ratepayers will also be interested. After all, here in New Zealand we must all be equal and the principles of democracy should be first and foremost in all of our minds.
* Malcolm Dixon is a Hastings District Councillor