By Alice Angeloni, Local Democracy Reporter
The law around Māori wards is "discriminatory", says East Coast MP Kiri Allan, as activists petition the Government for an urgent change in legislation.
Campaigning organisation ActionStation and community group Te Ropu Tautoko Māori have collected more than 10,000 signatures calling for Parliament to make the process of establishing Māori wards for district and regional councils the same as the process for establishing general wards.
Allan, along with Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson and Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, will be on the steps of Parliament at noon tomorrow as the petitions are delivered to MP Tamati Coffey.
"The law as it applies right now is discriminatory," Allan said.
She is referring to the polling requirement which means council decisions in favour of Māori wards can be overturned under the Local Electoral Act if 5 per cent of voters demand a poll on the decision.
"For me, supporting these wards following the unanimous decision in Gisborne ... there's a resounding mandate by our communities on the East Coast to support wards like these. Our people are calling for it across the board, Māori and Pakeha and all the rest," Allan said.
"This is about doing what's best for our democracy, and our democracy says that if we get the right people around the table, better decisions will be made.
"I feel that it's just an obligation I have to advocate for good law."
Allan said she was struck by Federated Farmers in Gisborne coming out in support of Māori wards.
"They know that when you work with the land and you work with the people, it's easiest just to take the people with you, to make sure they're at the table when we're making decisions, because that's how we get good outcomes."
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has said addressing Māori representation arrangements is a priority for her over the next three years. Allan said it was an issue the local government minister was looking at "immediately".
She said the petitions being presented tomorrow were an "important signal" to the Government about where the community stood on Māori wards.
"That certainly does have an impact, it certainly does build a case, and these are things that we all take very seriously in our considerations as to whether or not we look at making changes to the law."
There was a role for Government to play, it was part of the Labour Party's manifesto and now it was about "getting to a good policy point", Allan said.
ActionStation director Laura O'Connell Rapira said the legislation change needed to happen "under urgency".
"If we waited a year for this to change, then it's very likely that lots of the Māori wards that councils have voted in will get blocked," she said.
"We're essentially asking for Māori wards to be treated in the same way that general or rural wards are. At this stage it's only Māori wards that can be challenged by a referendum initiated by citizens.
"We think that's unfair, and it has been used historically to block Māori wards from being established, despite councils and councillors voting to establish them.
"The reason for delivering the petition now is to show Minister Mahuta that she has our full support. We're also hoping to show Cabinet that Nanaia has the support from the public to make it one of their top priorities as well."
This year, nine councils around the country have voted in favour of establishing Māori seats in time for the next round of local body elections in 2022.
Lobby group Hobson's Pledge published an update yesterday saying "even more Māori wards signature collectors" were needed to send the decisions to region-wide polls, following decisions by Gisborne District Council, along with Taupo, Ruapehu, and South Taranaki district councils, in favour of Māori wards.
The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union also released a statement yesterday scorning Labour ministers for unveiling "surprise new 'top priorities' that were completely absent from the party's election manifesto".
Taxpayers' Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke said Minister Mahuta seemed "intent on shutting out full participation on certain major decisions about local democracy".
"She has no mandate for this," he said.
Gisborne district councillors voted unanimously on November 23 in favour of establishing Māori wards.
For Gisborne, which has a population of 53 per cent Māori, if the current model of 13 councillors plus the mayor remained, it was proposed that five councillors would be elected from Māori wards, and eight would be elected from general wards.
If 5 per cent of electors, or 1625 people, sign a petition in Gisborne, the proposal on Māori wards must be sent to a region-wide poll and the council's decision could be overturned.