Far North District Council's failure to vote for Māori wards has been slammed by a former councillor and now central government politician.
"It's disappointing," Labour's new Northland MP Willow-Jean Prime said.
Prime has slated Far North District Council (FNDC) over its October 29 decision not to bring in Māori wards, particularly as it has one of the highest Māori populations in New Zealand.
"Making a decision for Māori wards would have shown leadership on what has been a complex issue," Prime said.
The Bay of Islands resident was an FNDC councillor from 2013 to 2017. Prime is doing a PhD on the relationship between Māori and local government in Te Tai Tokerau – and also has a Master of Laws (LLM) with first class honours. She left FNDC for Parliament in her second term.
Prime was in favour of FNDC Māori wards at the council's last consideration of the matter in 2014, rather than the poll the council also instead decided to carry out.
She said council making a decision for Māori wards did not mean councillors were making a unilateral decision with the community missing out. Those who had a strong opinion about the decision still had the right to demand a poll on the matter.
FNDC councillors Kelly Stratford and Moko Tepania last week pushed to get their council to bring in Māori wards for the 2022 and 2025 local government elections. This failed after a 5:5 split decision which included Mayor John Carter and Deputy Mayor Ann Court voting against the duo's motion in favour of the wards.
Carter instead moved FNDC first polled its electors - at the 2022 local government elections.
Polls consistently vote against Māori wards. If the outcome of the 2022 poll went against these wards, the matter couldn't be debated again until 2028. If the poll outcome went in favour, Māori wards wouldn't be brought in until 2025.
FNDC's last Māori wards poll saw 67 per cent of more than 13,000 registered electors rejecting the option. Poll results are binding.
Prime said FNDC's failure was in contrast to the historic leadership decisions of the region's three other councils - Kaipara and Whangarei district councils as well as Northland Regional Council – which voted for the wards.
Their decisions were significant.
"It's fantastic. From what I have seen, these councils have come a long way. The decisions bring an era of new leadership from our elected members.
"Historically this has been a challenging issue that's divided communities. As a region, and for elected members, we are maturing into this conversation and making bold leadership decisions.
"It's an absolutely historic move, given where we have come from. It's a first for these councils that have taken this bold decision and are showing real leadership in this space," Prime said.
The rest of New Zealand could see that, for a large part of the region, Northland had similar progressive council thinking in an area with a high Māori population.
"That's really important to see," she said.
The decisions were particularly important, given Te Tai Tokerau was the birthplace of the nation through Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Māori version of the Treaty of Waitangi).
"We are the caretakers of Te Tiriti o Waitangi."
Māori wards were part of building electoral and non-electoral options for representation and participation.
Councils have been able to consider bringing in Māori wards for almost 20 years.
Prime said it was important they showed leadership on the matter in their communities.