Electors no longer have the legal right to demand a poll over the adoption of Māori wards, but the Whangārei District Council is informally surveying its almost 100,000 residents on the issue, as part of the introduction of Māori wards.
Tōu Kaunihera, Tōu Kōwhiri (Your Council, Your Choice) is the first part of a five-step representation review, preceding a full formal consultation process that will begin on June 30.
The council voted in November to provide for Māori representation in the 2022 and 2025 elections, with the survey, which began on April 7, to be completed on May 7. The result will contribute to the development of the representation review proposal that will then go to formal consultation.
Earlier this month Electoral Officer Dale Ofsoske spoke to councillors at the council's first representation review briefing, after five of them failed in a bid to overturn the November Māori wards vote in March.
Mayor Sheryl Mai said after the March meeting that she wanted the debate and interest around the council's Māori wards decision carried through into community engagement in the representation review process.
"I'm hoping this has elevated the thinking and discussion and engagement of the people of Whangārei," she said.
The key factors in the representation review would be identifying the district's communities of interest, and how they could be fairly and effectively represented. Survey respondents are being asked what community they identify with – geographical, tribal affiliations, historical, the whole of Whangārei district or other personal choice options.
They are also being asked whether the district should still be divided into wards, if there should be more or fewer wards, and whether are happy with the current ward names.
There could be up to three Māori wards across the district, with voting open to those on the Māori electoral roll. Candidates in Māori wards would not have to be of Māori descent, but candidates would not be able to stand in general and Māori wards simultaneously. Electors on the Māori roll would not be able to vote in a general ward, and electors on the general roll would not be able to vote for Māori ward candidates.
Electors could choose which roll to register on, but those who were not of Māori descent would only be able to enrol on the general roll.
Ofsoske canvassed councillors on a range of issues, including how many seats there should be. There was also discussion around how many seats might be general and Māori, and the number of general and Māori wards. The options included electing councillors at large across the district, rather than within wards (of which there are currently six).
The Local Government Commission will make the final decisions in the event of any formal appeals or objections.