The legal decisions obtained by the Rotorua Lakes Council and the Rotorua Pro Democracy Society on the issue of the Te Arawa Partnership Proposal have thrown interesting new angles on the current hearings.

The proposal would see Te Arawa elect a board of up to 14 people with two representatives - with voting rights - to sit on certain council committees.

SEE STORY: Lawyers warn council could face judicial review

The council sought and received legal advice on the partnership model in relation to the Local Government Act and the Resource Management Act.


That advice from lawyers Tompkins Wake found the model is lawful and compliant with the council's obligations under legislation.

More importantly, the "outcome" of the model "does not overstep the bounds of what [the] council can do to give effect to its obligations under section 81 of the Local Government Act".

The advice document points out at least three times that the obligation to involve Maori in the decision-making process is not limited to consultation.

In other words, the process includes making the decision.

Clearly, under the model, just sitting on committees without having voting rights wouldn't be enough.

The document says unelected members can lawfully participate in committee voting.
But "whether this model is politically acceptable is a separate issue".

Aye, there's the rub.

Just because you can do something doesn't mean everyone will agree you should.


Very few of those opposed to the partnership proposal would have based their opposition on legal technicalities, rather bigger questions of democracy and representation.

Interestingly, the Pro Democracy Society's legal opinion from lawyers Russell McVeagh posits the model could lead to a successful judicial review of the council's actions.

It says there is a good argument to be made that the model is not consistent with the Local Government Act's purposes "relating to democratic local governance", and that the model is not consistent with the provisions of the Local Government Act and the Resource Management Act relating to the Treaty of Waitangi. "We consider that under the Te Arawa Partnership Model, the Rotorua [Lakes] Council could be held to be exceeding its mandate ..."

Two sets of lawyers - two opposing sets of legal opinions.

Only one thing is clear at this stage.

Whichever way this process goes, it will be messy, and it will take a lot longer than anyone will want it to.