Northland is making New Zealand local government history as neighbouring councils look at whether to bring in new Māori wards.
Dr Mike Reid, Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) principal policy adviser, said having Northland's four councils considering Māori wards at the same time was a first.
"We haven't seen such a large group of neighbouring councils [in one region] all considering Māori wards at once," Reid said.
There are about 64,460 Northlanders who identify as Māori among the region's 180,000 locals. About 36 per cent of Northlanders identify as Māori, compared with 16.5 per cent nationally.
Far North District Council (FNDC), Kaipara District Council (KDC), Whangārei District Council (WDC) and Northland Regional Council (NRC) will all decide within the next month whether to bring in separate Māori wards or constituencies, and how to go ahead with doing so.
NRC will vote today
, Kaipara District Council on October 28, Far North District Council on October 29 and WDC on November 3.
"Last year's local elections brought a sea change of diversity for local government and it's pleasing to see that continuing as councils look at how they can further encourage more communities to have their input into local democracy," Reid said.
Councils are required under the Local Government Act to consider the Treaty of Waitangi and maintain and improve opportunities for Māori to contribute to local government decision-making processes.
FNDC voted to bring in Māori wards in 2015, but that did not go ahead after 68 per cent of electors in a public poll voted against it doing so.
Electoral Officer Dale Ofsoske told WDC councillors last week Māori wards were a "matter of interest" to Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta.
Northland Māori wards/constituencies could be in place within two years.
Whangārei mayor Sheryl Mai said WDC's Māori representation consideration was part of making sure her council was adequately reflecting its community.
Harry Burkhardt (Ngāti Kurī), Te Kahu o Taonui (Northland Iwi Chairs Forum) chairman, said his group had in 2018 signed a memorandum of understanding with the Northland Mayoral Forum that represents Northland's councils. This was to work towards building a relationship-based connection between Northland iwi and councils.
Consideration of Māori wards was Northland local government's activation of that relationship, Burkhardt said.
"It's awesome to see all four Northland councils are considering this option," said first-term FNDC councillor Moko Tepania (Te Rarawa/Ngati Kahu ki Whangaroa).
Tepania is an executive member of the LGNZ Council's Te Maruata – a national collective of Māori working in governance within local government and their communities.
"It's exciting we have raised awareness of Māori representation, no matter what the outcome of the council decisions," Tepania said.
Northland councils considering Māori wards/constituencies have several different options, along with the status quo, to choose from when making their decisions. They also have several different routes they can take to bring in these seats.
Those that vote to set up the wards/constituencies must notify the public. From there, the community can demand a public poll on the council decision.
Ofsoske told WDC councillors they could resolve by November 23 to set up Māori wards to be in time for the next local body elections in 2022. They could instead decide to hold a public poll on the matter to gauge public support for the option.
A standalone poll could be held. The decision on this had to be made by February 21 next year and the poll held before May 21 to be in time for the 2022 local body elections.
It could otherwise hold a poll as part of the 2022 local government election process – with the decision to do so made after February 21 and poll held after May 21. But this would mean the wards' introduction would not be until the 2025 local body elections.
There was also the option of staying with the status quo.
Ofsoske said a standalone poll would cost WDC as much as $110,000 plus GST.
WDC manager democracy and assurance, said running a public poll along with the next local government elections rather than as the standalone option would mean a significantly lower cost - about $9000 or only about 10 per cent of the standalone poll. But she reminded that the later poll date meant Māori wards could not be set up until the 2025 local body elections.
Jason Marris, KDC general manager transformation and engagement, said his council was gathering feedback on Māori wards from local iwi Te Roroa and Te Uri o Hau. That would form the basis of a report to the council's October meeting.
Ofsoske said if WDC votes at its November meeting to adopt Māori seats, it must publicly advertise this before November 30 and let people know of their right to a public poll. A WDC councillors' decision in favour of Māori seats could be overturned if 3080 people (or 5 per cent of electors) voted against it.
Only three of New Zealand's 78 councils have separate Māori wards or constituencies.
Any voter can stand in a Māori ward, but only those on the Māori electoral roll can vote in a Māori ward.