Hundreds of Northlanders opposed to Māori wards have already signed up to New Zealand's biggest opposition polling demand campaign.
Democracy Northland wants 11,000 signatures across three citizen-initiated petitions to oppose recent decisions in favour of Māori wards/constituencies by three of the North's four councils - Northland Regional Council (NRC), Whangārei District Council (WDC) and Kaipara District Council (KDC).
Democracy Northland leader John Bain said petitioners were clamouring to sign up. However, earlier this week leading New Zealand Māori wards advocate Andrew Judd, the former mayor of New Plymouth, called on the public not to sign Democracy Northland's poll.
Bain said hundreds of petitioners have already signed, just 48 hours after Democracy Northland's initial public provision of polling petition forms. This was done through a first full-page advertisement in the Northern Advocate on Wednesday.
The longtime NRC councillor and former deputy chair set up Democracy Northland after walking out of the council's October 20 meeting and resigning. He did so over what he called 'broken democracy', exiting just ahead of a 7-1 vote for the constituencies. That departure came after he had initially tried – but failed - to get the council to instead initiate a poll of its ratepayers first.
Northland's three councils make up just under half of the seven nationally, which have this year decided in favour of the wards. It's the only region where all its councils voted on the wards at the same time.
Democracy Northland is calling on electors to individually sign up to two separate countermanding petitions against the decisions – one demanding an NRC poll, the second insisting on the same of their local district council.
Bain said the group was aiming for 6,500 signatures for the NRC petition, 3,500 for the WDC petition and 1,000 for KDC.
Under the Local Electoral Act councils must go ahead with polling if five per cent of registered electors demand that they do. This equates to 6,027 people from NRC's 120,458 electors, 3,080 people from WDC's 73,563 electors and 790 people from KDC's 15,806 electors.
Polling results are binding on councils and consistently overturn their decisions in favour of Māori wards. This has happened with all but one of New Zealand's most recent nine polls nationally.
Councils must go ahead with the polls if demanded. This would cost Northland ratepayers $360,000 – NRC $240,000, WDC $90,000 and KDC $30,000.
Bain has said he expected to lodge the petitions before the end of the year. The polls must be demanded before February 21 to be in time to affect the next local government elections in 2022.
Democracy Northland began on November 12, with Bain initially campaigning on the NRC poll demand. That has expanded this week to include WDC and KDC.
Former Act candidate and Poroti orchardist/farmer Robin Grieve is the lead WDC petitioner against the council's Māori wards decision. He lobbied the council against its establishment in the lead-up to that decision.
"WDC's decision on Māori wards should have been put out for a poll first (to see what electors thought of this)," Grieve said.
Craig Jepson, a Mangawhai concreting contractor and developer, is the lead KDC petitioner against the council's decision for a Māori ward.
Jepson stood for KDC at the last three local government elections, missing out by just 10 votes in 2019. He said polling was about ratepayers having their say, rather than councillors making decisions on Māori wards without consultation.
"It's a democratic thing. We need to have a say as ratepayers, particularly in Kaipara, where we're often bulldozed without that chance to have a say," Jepson said.