Local government veteran Dover Samuels is calling for a law change to remove an almost 'insurmountable barrier' to Māori representation at the country's council tables.
Samuels, who has been involved in Northland local government since the 1970s and was Māori Affairs Minister in Helen Clark's government, said he had seen the issue of Māori representation come up time and time again — as it did again last week when Northland Regional councillor John Bain resigned in protest because he wanted the public polled before councillors voted to bring in Māori seats.
The regional council's decision can still be overturned if 5 per cent of electors demand a binding poll.
Since then the Kaipara District Council has voted to implement Māori seats while the Far North District Council rejected bringing the wards in, instead voting to ask its community if it wanted Māori wards, by holding a poll with the 2022 local government elections.
But Samuels said the process was stacked against Māori representation.
''First you have to get it over the line with councillors. Then you have to get it over the line with all ratepayers. It's a waste of ratepayer money [a formal poll would cost about $240,000] because the reality is it won't get over the line because of the make-up and conservative nature of the Northland population.''
He commended moves by Northland councils to improve Māori representation, ''but I wouldn't hold my breath it will succeed''.
Samuels said Parliament needed to legislate to remove the need for a poll, if demanded by voters, to confirm council decisions on Māori wards.
''The current law just doesn't deliver. You're not putting the decision [about Māori representation] before Māori voters, you're putting it before general voters, the majority of whom are non-Māori. It's as simple as that.''
Bay of Plenty Regional Council has had dedicated Māori seats since 2001 but Samuels said that was the result of special legislation which did not apply to other regions.
When he was first elected to Parliament in 1996 he was one of only four Māori MPs. Now there were far more and seven dedicated Māori seats.
''If it's good enough for central government it's good enough for local government.''
Despite a population that was about 40 per cent Māori and plenty of Māori candidates standing for election, Northland's four councils had woefully few Māori representatives.
Far North District councillor Moko Tepania, a language advocate and kura kaupapa teacher from Kaikohe, was one of the few exceptions.
Meanwhile, the Northland Regional Council's Tai Tokerau Māori and Council Working Party has urged the council to work with the Prime Minister and Local Government New Zealand to change the Local Electoral Act provision requiring polling.
In 2015 the Far North District Council asked residents in a non-binding postal ballot whether they wanted dedicated Māori seats around the council table.
More than two-thirds, 68 per cent, were opposed with 32 per cent in favour. The turnout was just over 35 per cent.
If Māori seats had been adopted they would have applied at the 2016 and 2019 local elections.