A Northland pro-Māori wards campaigner is calling on Far North District Council to reconsider its decision over the special seats in the wake of new Government legislation.
Kevin Grose, Inclusion Northland leader, said Far North District Council (FNDC) should now make a decision in their favour, particularly as 51 per cent of its people identified as Māori – one of the highest percentages in New Zealand.
The Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill passed its second reading this week. Northlanders were among those who presented their views on the topic to the Government's Māori Affairs Parliamentary Select Committee headed by List MP Tamati Coffey as part of the legislation change.
This removed electors' right to overturn councils' decisions in favour of Māori wards by demanding a binding poll. There were more than 12,500 submissions nationally sent in the 48 hour legislation change public submission timeslot.
Grose said FNDC could now make a decision for Māori seats without fear of it being overturned if 5 per cent of electors demanded a poll.
The change clearly showed the Government's intention to encourage more Māori wards.
But Far North Mayor John Carter has refused to be drawn on this challenge. He said his council had made no decision on whether or not it would vote for Māori seats after the legislation change.
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has extended the deadline for councils to make decisions on whether to have Māori wards until May 21. Three of the nine councils that voted to do so before the previous February 21 deadline are from Northland.
October efforts by FNDC councillors Kelly Stratford and Moko Tepania to get the council to vote for Māori seats failed after a 5/5 split vote in which Carter voted against doing so.
FNDC instead decided to first poll its electors at the time of the next local government elections in 2022.
Carter said on Friday that decision had been annulled by this week's legislation change.
FNDC had, as a result, held an across-sector workshop on Monday and an extraordinary council meeting on Tuesday to decide on how to now proceed.
It decided to take the Māori representation topic out to its people as part of an informal much-wider March council consultation on four major projects.
Carter said it would be wrong to say the pending consultation was Māori seats consultation.
Views were being sought on the items including council's wider representation review plus FNDC's 2021-2031 Long Term and District Plans.
Community meetings are being held in venues including Kaikohe, Kaitaia, Kawakawa, and Kerikeri.
Carter said representation review aspects canvassed would include what the community thought of Māori seats and Māori committees such as Northland Regional Council's Te Taitokerau Maori and Council Working Group (TTMAC) or Whangarei District Council's Te Kārearea standing committee.
They would also look at whether FNDC's three community boards offered the best linkage into communities.
Carter said the council had not decided whether it would meet to make a decision on having Māori seats, neither had there been thought given to when it might do so.
FNDC has one only full council meeting before the May 21 deadline for any Māori seats decision change.
Carter said that was not an issue as the council could hold an extraordinary meeting to decide on Māori seats, should it choose to.
Tepania said the legislation change was great news. It offered hope for Northland as a whole.
He is FNDC's Te Ao Māori portfolio holder, a member of Te Maruata (the national Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) councils' group focused on promoting Māori representation and participation in local government) and LGNZ young elected members' committee co-chairman.
FNDC's October 29 split vote on bringing in Māori wards saw Stratford, Tepania and councillors David Clendon, Rachel Smith and John Vujcich vote for doing so. Carter, Deputy Mayor Ann Court, Dave Collard, Felicity Foy and Mate Radich voted against.
Carter's ensuing call for FNDC to instead first have a council-initiated poll, as part of the 2022 local body elections, then prevailed after his amendment to the failed Māori wards motion. This amendment was seconded by Collard and supported by Court, Clendon, Foy and Vujcich. Councillors Tepania, Smith, Stratford and Radich voted against this option.