Far North voters will have a chance next year to decide if the district should have Maori wards in council elections.

The non-binding postal ballot will take place in February and March and seek a simple yes or no response. Holding the poll will cost about $65,000.

If a majority backs the idea of designated Maori seats at the council table, they could be introduced in time for the 2016 local government elections.

By law the Far North District Council has to carry out a review of its electoral boundaries and representation system later next year. If the yes vote wins, the number of Maori wards and seats could be decided as part of that review.


Mayor John Carter, who described Maori seats as a form of apartheid in the run-up to the 2013 local elections, said he was still personally opposed but neither he nor the council would campaign for or against the proposal. Instead the council would produce an impartial information sheet and hold a poll early next year to get some direction from the community.

If the proposal was rejected the council would look at other ways to meet its commitment to better engage with Maori, who made up close to half of the Far North's population. Other options included setting up advisory boards or appointing Maori to standing committees, but the council wanted to canvass the electoral option first.

The next opportunity to change the Far North's voting system would be in 2019, which was too far away. When previous mayor Wayne Brown and the Better Local Government Working Group were pushing for a unitary authority last year, their proposal included three Maori seats with boundaries similar to the Far North's current wards.

Since then, however, iwi seem to have cooled on the idea, saying they should not have to rely on voters' whims to be heard by the council.

Ngai Takoto leader Rangitane Marsden, who co-chaired the Better Local Government Working Group with Mr Brown, said the poll was "insulting" and came out of the blue.

"It's a bit of a head-scratcher. The council is saying, 'We'd like to have a relationship with you, but we'll ask the people of the Far North first'."

Mr Marsden said iwi were looking for partnerships and ways of moving Northland forward, but did not have to be voted on to the council to achieve that.

"The council's position seems to be, 'If we create wards, you can sit at the table with us'. Our position is that we can sit at the table as of right, you just have to invite us."


The whole Maori seats debate could be rendered superfluous if the Local Government Commission decides to scrap the Far North District Council in favour of a single Northlandwide authority combining the region's four existing councils.

-Voting packs will be sent out to registered electors on February 23 with voting due to close on March 17.