Environment Waikato has voted to establish Maori seats but the Hamilton City Council has decided not to introduce them.

The regional council yesterday voted eight to four in favour of introducing Maori constituencies for Waikato for the 2013 triennial election.

Chairman Peter Buckley said the groundwork for strengthening Maori representation started in 2006 when the council reduced the number of councillors from 14 to 12 and adjusted constituency boundaries to allow for two members to be elected from Maori constituencies in the future.

"This council has long recognised the special status of the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand society and the potential for improving Maori representation in regional governance," Mr Buckley said.

The decision was welcomed by Waikato Tainui principal negotiator Tukoroirangi Morgan.

"It's a sign of acceptance that a major regional council is of the view that there has to be iwi participation at the highest level," he said.

"I see this as a significant recognition of the place for iwi and it is a sign of maturity."

Environment Waikato councillor Russ Rimmington opposed the idea, saying the council should run a poll on whether there should be Maori seats.

But councillor Lois Livingston said Maori had had no representation on the council for more than 20 years and the time was now "absolutely right" for the seats.

"Maori make up 20 per cent of the population here and we know what the outcome would be if this went to a poll - people would be completely against the idea."

Environment Waikato will publicly notify the decision to introduce Maori seats, advising that a poll can be held on the issue if 5 per cent of electors call for it.

Meanwhile, the Hamilton City Council will retain the status quo for its 2013 and 2016 elections and will instead look at better ways to engage with Maori.

Councillors voted four to nine against the change with councillor John Gower saying he believed in equal opportunity.

Under the current two-ward system the council would have replaced one seat in each ward for a Maori seat.

A council-run citizen panel also found 60 per cent did not support Maori seats being introduced.

"Everybody in New Zealand should have the same opportunity and that opportunity should not be divided between race, creed or colour."

Councillor Roger Hennebry pointed out there were as many Asians in the city as Maori and felt a poll would show 80 per cent of people did not support it.

Margaret Forsyth, who strongly represents Maori in her role, said she did not think Maori should be given special treatment.

"All my life I have always played on an even playing field ... I have never felt that I needed to say, 'What about me, I'm Maori, I would like some special treatment here.' I have always felt you get the best people for the job with an all-out open process."

Councillors Daphne Bell, Dave Macpherson and Gordon Chesterman said it was an opportunity for the council to better engage with Maori.

Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker also supported the Maori seats plan.

Ms Bell proposed the council trial it for two terms, while Mr Macpherson said engagement with Maori had deteriorated in his time on the council.

Councillors Gower, Hennebry, Peter Bos, Forsyth, Angela O'Leary, Ewan Wilson, Pippa Mahood, Martin Gallagher and Maria Westphal voted for the status quo.

DIFFERENT VIEWS
Environment Waikato
Plans to introduce Maori constituencies for the Waikato Region for 2013 election.

Hamilton District Council
Will not introduce Maori seats for 2013 and 2016 council elections but will look at better ways to engage with Maori.