Hamilton City Council has committed to strengthening Māori representation and participation, including consideration of Māori wards, following the adoption of a wider strategy to improve outcomes for Māori.
Whether the council would introduce Māori wards for the 2022 election was debated by elected members at an extraordinary council meeting on April 1.
The debate was prompted by the upcoming introduction of the Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill. The bill requires some councils to decide May 21 if Māori wards should be established for next year's local government elections.
Māori wards allow for members of council to be voted in by electors on the Māori roll.
Previously, if 5 per cent of a council's population challenged the introduction of Māori wards, a binding poll was required. That option is now being removed.
On Thursday last week Hamilton mayor Paula Southgate said while some good work had been done, she acknowledged the council had much more to do in improving meaningful participation for Māori across the city.
"But I could not, in all conscience, introduce Māori wards without having consulted with the wider community. I don't believe that would have achieved the right outcome, either for Māori or for the city. I am concerned a rushed process would divide our city, not enrich it.
"Today's decision commits council to continuing a very robust conversation which I believe will culminate in Māori wards in the near future. In the meantime, we can do a lot more across all areas of council to increase and improve Māori participation and we will be a better city for it."
The decision reaffirmed the council's commitment to He Pou Manawa Ora, a strategy which the council has consulted the community on but is yet to formally adopt. He Pou Manawa Ora covers issues ranging from city artworks to council policies.
The draft strategy's four 'pillars' or 'pou' of wellbeing – History, Unity, Prosperity and Restoration – are based on the Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti o Waitangi) principles of partnership, participation, protection and prosperity.
An updated version of the strategy based on community feedback will be considered by council's Community Committee on Tuesday, May 18.
In the meantime, Southgate has asked the council to look at ways to strengthen its Māngai Māori model and the broader role of Māori in the decision-making process.
Since 2018, Māori have been represented on Hamilton City Council by five Māngai Māori (the voice of Māori ), who are nominated by iwi (Waikato-Tainui) and mātāwāka (Māori not of Waikato-Tainui descent) organisations and have voting rights on council committees, but not at full council meetings.