A leading New Zealand Māori wards advocate is calling on the Prime Minister to take immediate action over a major impediment to their establishment in Northland.
"Legislation change around removing polling over councils' Māori wards voting needs to be the first cab off the rank at the first sitting of our new Parliament," Andrew Judd, former New Plymouth mayor said.
Northland Regional Council (NRC), Kaipara District Council (KDC) and Whangarei District Council (WDC) have – for the first time - in the last three weeks decided in favour of the wards (district councils) or constituencies (regional council).
A major campaign has already started to demand a poll over one of these councils' decisions. Polls almost always overturn council decisions to add Maori wards. Former NRC deputy chairman John Bain is spearheading a Democracy Northland campaign to get 6500 NRC electors demanding a poll on their council's decision to NRC before Christmas.
"Changes to the Local Electoral Act need to be made urgently and in a way that makes any Northland polling results null and void," Judd said.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said Maōri wards legislation change consideration was already under way. The Government was committed to making the creation of these wards easier, but legislation change would not be considered at the first full working session of the new Parliament - on December 1.
There was a desire to progress it before the local government elections in 2022, however legislative change wouldn't happen this year, the Prime Minister's spokesperson said.
Signalled Local Electoral Act (LEA) changes for the next local government elections - with the polling's removal already strongly signalled - don't address the immediate need for how NRC, KDC and WDC - plus at least four others in the same boat nationally - deal with the polling issue in the meantime.
Judd said Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta needed to take urgent action on Māori wards polling too.
A spokesperson for Mahuta said work was being done on how to deal with the issue in the short term.
An announcement, ahead of full legislation change for the next local government elections, would be made within three weeks.
NRC will likely write to Mahuta this
week, calling for a polling moratorium or similar - after its full council meeting tomorrow.
An agenda item from council chief executive Malcom Nicolson outlines other matters NRC will also seek clarification on in the letter. These include asking for a timeline for signalled LEA changes around polling over council decisions in favour of wards/constituencies.
The letter follows the NRC Te Taitokerau Māori and Council Working Party's September recommendation council writes to the Government on the polling issue.
The right for electors to demand a poll over councils' decisions in favour of Māori wards has become a national flashpoint.
Under the LEA, five per cent of electors can demand a poll on councils' Māori wards' decisions.
In Northland that's 6027 people from NRC's 120,548 electors, 790 people from KDC's 15,806 electors and 3080 people from WDC's 73,563 electors.
Northland has become a Māori wards/constituencies powerhouse after 75 per cent - three of its four councils - voted in their favour for the 2022 and 2025 local government elections.
NRC, KDC and WDC now make up almost 45 per cent of New Zealand's record at least seven councils nationwide that have voted similarly so far this year. Northland is the only region in New Zealand with all its councils voting on these at the same time.
Māori electorates have been a feature of national politics for more than 150 years but that's not the case at the local level.
"As a country we seem to applaud diversity and difference in our representation at a national government level, but that doesn't seem to be the case where the rubber meets the road at the local government level," Judd said.
Just three of New Zealand's 78 local authorities have Māori wards - Wairoa District Council plus Bay of Plenty and Waikato regional councils – despite of legally being able to do so since 2002.
Judd has campaigned for half a decade to get rid of the right for electors to demand a poll on councils' Māori wards decisions.
He was New Plymouth mayor when his council in 2015 voted for a Māori ward. But a binding citizen-initiated poll overturned this - in what's still New Zealand's biggest anti-voting majority of 83 per cent. Judd has campaigned against these polls ever since.
Eight of New Zealand's last nine citizen-initiated polls of this type have overturned these council decisions.
Judd will speak against polling and about Māori wards at two public meetings in Northland later this month.
New Zealand councils that have voted for Māori wards/constituencies this year:
1. Kaipara District Council - voted yes for a Māori ward, October 28 2020. Seven votes for decision and two abstentions.
2. New Plymouth District Council - voted yes for a Māori ward, July 21 2020. A 12-2 majority decision.
3. Northland Regional Council - voted yes for Māori constituencies, October 20 2020. A 7-1 majority decision. (The remaining eight councillors voted after sitting councillor and former deputy chairman John Bain resigned and walked out over the pending vote).
4. Ruapehu District Council - voted yes for a Māori ward, October 29 2020. A 10-2 majority decision.
5. South Taranaki District Council - voted yes for a Māori ward, November 11 2020. A unanimous decision.
6. Tauranga City Council - voted yes for a Maōri ward, August 25 2020. A 6-4 majority decision with one abstention.
7. Whangarei District Council - voted yes for Māori wards, November 3 2020. An 8-6 majority decision.
Hawkes Bay Regional Council will vote on Wednesday, November 18, on whether to have one or two Māori constituencies for 2022.