Councillors cave in to ‘vote our way or be sued’ threat from Maori selection panel ... and ratepayers must pay.

We have John Key and Rodney Hide to thank for the scandal erupting over Maori representation on the Auckland Council.

In designing the super city, they were so busy appeasing their allies and supporters that they forgot to consider the bigger democratic picture. To satisfy his Maori Party allies, the Prime Minister was forced to incorporate some form of separate Maori representation into the governance structure. But Mr Key and the then-Minister of Local Government, Mr Hide, regarded elected "Maori" seats as a step too far.

The compromise is the existing mess of unelected appointees, voting alongside elected councillors and answerable to no one but a mysterious selection panel that like some exotic insect, is supposed to die once its reproductive task is done.

But because of an appeal by a failed hopeful, media personality Willie Jackson, the 2013 selection panel has had to be brought back to life. So it is back - and with a vengeance. On July 24, its chairman, Tame Te Rangi, wrote to chief executive Stephen Town, threatening to sue councillors if they didn't fund the panel's legal battles with Mr Jackson.


"Unless Auckland Council provides the funding forthwith, we will be instructing Dr Matthew Palmer, QC, to bring legal proceedings against Auckland Council and each member of the governing body in their personal capacity."

Senior local body politician Mike Lee says: "It's the first time I have been threatened with legal action in my personal capacity for not voting as demanded, in 25 years in local government."

Constitutional law expert and former Prime Minister, Sir Geoffrey Palmer - father of Dr Palmer - called the threat "extraordinary".

Distressingly, the bullying seems to have had the desired effect. On November 28, 2013, councillors voted 12 to 3 against paying for the initial appeal. But two weeks ago, having received the threat, councillors voted nine votes to seven to fund the latest appeal.

Mr Lee and two colleagues, Wayne Walker and John Watson, subsequently lodged a formal complaint with the Auditor-General.

One can only hope she takes this abuse of democracy more seriously than it has been taken by the council hierarchy. Threatening to drag councillors before the courts if they don't follow your orders is unconscionable.

What the publicity has highlighted is Mr Te Rangi's own chequered past. It has brought to light how in the early 1990s, he was jailed for five months for stealing almost $40,000 from a Ngati Whatua trust.

It's a conviction that bars him from serving on the Auckland Council's Independent Maori Statutory Board. Oddly, it is no obstacle to him chairing the selection panel.


In November 2014, Justice Duffy found in support of Mr Jackson's complaint that the appointment of Tony Kake as one of the two Mataawaka (non-local) representatives on the statutory board, was flawed, and instructed the selectors to try again.

The judgment revealed how Mickey Mouse the selection process had been. The panel got to the Mataawaka selection at 12.15pm. Only seven sets of each nominees full supporting material were available to circulate among a panel of 18. At 12:30, they adjourned for lunch, having decided there was no need for a general discussion. During the half hour lunch break, they were supposed to digest the documentation and take part in a secret ballot. By 1:15, the votes had been counted.

Justice Duffy, said they had failed to meet the statutory requirement that the views of mataawaka be taken into account.

Instead of accepting the decision, and conducting another selection along the guidelines indicated by the court, the selectors are off to the Court of Appeal next Tuesday to appeal against Justice Duffy's ruling.

They now have ratepayer funding to keep the pointless fight going. How much it will cost is anyone's guess. The only certainty is that the Government, which created the mess, has refused the council's request for extra funds.

The best it will do is talk about clarifying the legislation at some time in the future. By that, it means the fine print.

But what's really needed is to take a blowtorch to this whole un-elected bad dream, and permit Auckland to return to its democratic roots.