Wellington City councillors have agreed in principle to establish a Māori ward, after the Government announced it would abolish a law that allows local referendums to veto such decisions.
Councillors voted in favour of the move today 12-3 at a strategy and policy committee meeting.
The decision is subject to consideration of feedback from targeted engagement with mana whenua and Māori. All residents can provide feedback to the council through usual channels.
Māori Partnerships portfolio leader councillor Jill Day told her colleagues the stakes are too high to not get the decision right.
"Māori voice must be at the table, it can't be left to chance."
She said she was so astonished she was the first Māori woman to be elected to Wellington City Council in 2016 that she asked the fact to be triple-checked.
Councillors Nicola Young, Malcolm Sparrow and Diane Calvert voted against the move.
Young said her top priorities were improving water infrastructure and keeping rates down.
"I think this is a distraction from making sure we don't have sh*t running down the streets."
Sparrow said many people landed in the middle of the debate, who don't have closed minds but do have genuine questions.
He said they included whether the proposal was something Māori in Wellington actually wanted.
Sparrow also voiced concern the council was putting the cart before the horse by supporting the ward in principle, before consulting the public.
Calvert said the appropriate time to consider the ward was at a full representation review already scheduled for 2023.
Day filed a notice of motion last month to establish a Māori ward at the next local body election.
This was after the Government announced it would abolish a law that allows local referendums to veto decisions by councils to establish Māori wards.
Despite a vehement fight from the opposition, the Bill passed.
Today, councillor Sean Rush said some of the debate around the council table was difficult to hear.
"The narrative that the early settlers stole land and have shut out Māori from decision-making is equally divisive and frankly, is actually quite offensive to me at least."
Day said she was sorry the truth was offensive.
Councillor Iona Pannett said the council would be richer and have better outcomes with a Māori ward.
Deputy Mayor Sarah Free said: "We're standing at the cusp of something quite important and we will be on the right side of history in supporting this."
Mayor Andy Foster said it was about people being represented in the way they choose.
The council is also investigating giving mana whenua voting rights and remuneration on council committees.
Day said this work would continue alongside the establishment of the Māori ward.
Any decision to establish the ward will require council to subsequently conduct a full representation review.
Officers will report back to the committee by May 13.