The binding referendum to decide whether a separate Maori seat will be created on the Western Bay District Council could be one of the last to be held in New Zealand.

Local Government New Zealand, representing the country's 78 councils, has written to the Government seeking to scrap the law that allowed polls of electors on whether or not a council could establish Maori wards.

Last year the Western Bay District Council voted 9-3 in favour of establishing a Maori ward, but a successful petition has forced the council into running a district-wide referendum to decide the issue.

Local Government NZ president and Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said polling provisions for Maori wards did not apply to the creation of other electoral wards or constituencies.

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He called the current provisions unfair to Maori and inconsistent with the principle of equal treatment enshrined in the Treaty of Waitangi.

''Either the poll provisions should apply to all wards or they should apply to none.''

Mike Lally, one of the Western Bay councillors who opposed a Maori ward, gave the open letter little chance of success after the failure by the Green Party last year to ditch polling provisions for Maori wards. New Zealand First, Labour and National wanted nothing to do with it, he said.

Lally helped lead the petition that gathered more than 4500 signatures - about 2000 more than needed to guarantee organisers had reached the 1708 signatures required to force a poll.

He believed the overwhelming support for the petition had proved that the bid for a Maori ward was doomed to failure. ''People don't want separatism.''

Lally disagreed with the fundamental basis of Local Government NZ's open letter because a Maori ward was a different thing to a general ward. It was privileged based on voters needing to be Maori.

He said there had been no discussion or vote by the Western Bay council to support Local Government NZ's open letter.

Western Bay Mayor Garry Webber said the letter represented Local Government NZ's opposition to poll provisions for Maori wards since before the 2016 election that elected Mr Lally.

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He said councils had to identify communities of interest. In the Western Bay, this included the 15 to 17 per cent of the district's population who were Maori - the council interacted with 11 iwi and 74 hapu.

Webber said it was not about democracy but totally about fair representation of the people who lived in the district.

It was inconsistent that people had two licks at opposing Maori wards whereas other reviews of council representation arrangements allowed one chance, he said.

Anthony Te Uruhi Wihapi, the Te Puke secretary of Te Arawa No 1's executive committee, said the Western Bay's 9-3 vote was a vote for justice, equity and fairness. The opposing councillors were living in the past.

''The current system is nothing but the exercise of a tyranny of the majority ... as a nation we have moved on and domestic law is on the side of tangata whenua. Democracy requires that representation be based upon these two culturally distinct peoples having fair and proportional representation.''

Western Bay council's referendum on a Maori ward
- Cost $70,000
- Poll day May 19
- Binding on a simple 50 per cent majority