A Maori standing committee is being considered as an alternative to dedicated seats as the Far North District Council considers how to better engage with Maori.

However, Deputy Mayor Tania McInnes was at pains to point out during last Thursday's council meeting to discuss the issue that the proposal was a starting point for discussion only.

The next step was to discuss ideas for iwi representation with Maori.

Mayor John Carter said he did not want a repeat of last month's situation when the council thought it was doing the right thing by organising a non-binding poll in February to gauge public support for dedicated Maori seats.

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Iwi leaders poured cold water on that idea, despite Maori seats being part of a proposal for a Far North unitary authority developed by former Mayor Wayne Brown and iwi leaders such as Rangitane Marsden.

Following news of the poll Mr Marsden said the idea that the council needed to seek the permission of the Far North as a whole before allowing Maori representation was "insulting".

Councillors voted last Thursday to investigate setting up a Maori standing committee and called on staff to prepare a report on possible membership, budget and powers after talks with Far North Maori.

It is part of a drive to boost Maori engagement and make sure tangata whenua, who make up 40 per cent of the Far North's population, have more say in council decisions.

According to a staff report, the council agreed in principle in 2011 to consider setting up a Maori standing committee but the idea was not taken any further.

Another option put forward in the report was to set up a Maori advisory committee.

The Northland Regional Council has a Te Taitokerau Maori Advisory Committee, but the report's author said there were "unresolved issues" around its terms of reference and powers.

The report did not look into setting up a body like Auckland Council's Maori statutory board, saying it would require a law change and central government had "limited appetite" for such boards.

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The way the council was currently engaging with Maori was "not sufficient to allow the development of strategic relationships that will bring mutual benefits to Maori and the wider community", the report stated.

The Far North District Council is not taking an official position on the issue of dedicated Maori seats. Mr Carter said he was personally opposed - he described Maori seats as a form of apartheid in the run-up to the 2013 local elections - but it was up to the people of the Far North to decide.