I refute some claims made in an article based on a Rotorua Lakes Council press release and published in the Rotorua Daily Post Weekend on March 5 in regard to council representation.
The council decided its position of representation on November 19, 2021. The fifth and crucial decision was, it was asserted, to meet the purposes of the Local Electoral Act with an interim representation model that falls short of the council's preferred model, however, preserves the principles of voter parity. This decision was made with the slimmest possible majority which, in my opinion, suggests marginal legitimacy.
Mayor Steve Chadwick and Crs Dave Donaldson, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, Trevor Maxwell, Fisher Wang and Mercia Yates voted for the decision while Crs Peter Bentley, Sandra Kai Fong, Raj Kumar, Reynold Macpherson and Tania Tapsell did not.
The article claimed the council decided to pursue an equal Māori seats model through a law change.
The actual decision was to support an interim model of one Māori ward seat, one general ward seat and eight at-large seats for electing councillors, to be recommended to the Local Government Commission, and simultaneously, an ideal model of three Māori ward seats, three general ward seats and four at-large seats to be proposed in a local bill to go before Parliament.
Nobody disputes the fairness of everyone voting for at-large candidates. However, electing an equal number of councillors from each of the Māori and general wards, so-called voter parity, is unfair.
Voter parity across the two wards would give the 19,791 citizens on the Māori roll 2.6 times the voting power of the 51,618 citizens on the general roll.
Why was it proposed? In my opinion, voter parity is favoured by those who seek co-governance. Co-governance is where those elected share their power and responsibilities to govern citizens with a third party they have selected. RDRR members will never accept being co-governed by unelected people.
Another problem with the interim and ideal models is that Clause 2 of Schedule 1A of the Local Electoral Act 2001 requires representation from wards to be proportional to their electoral populations. Both models are therefore unlawful and undemocratic.
A third problem is that Section 12 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights gives every citizen the right to vote in genuine periodic elections by equal suffrage, not voter parity. Equal suffrage means giving all voters equal voting power, and where there are wards, proportional representation. It is, in my opinion, ill-advised to promote voter parity over equal suffrage.
It was also said that feedback during consultation told the council that "parity is largely desired by our community".
I disagree. The council's own analysis of feedback published on November 16 showed that, with the introduction of a Māori ward, 45 per cent preferred directly proportional Option 1 (three Māori and seven general seats); one-third favoured two Māori, three general, four at-large and one rural seat; 9 per cent supported Te Tatau's Option 2 (three Māori, six general and one at-large seat, and 9 per cent favoured Other.
Only 4 per cent supported the council's initial proposal or Option 3 (two Māori, four general and four at-large seats). Equal suffrage was significantly preferred over voter parity.
In my opinion, the least-justified claim in the article was that voter parity "is one of the cornerstones of New Zealand's Te Tiriti o Waitangi and also reflects the spirit and intent of the Rotorua Township (Fenton) Agreement, and the generosity demonstrated by Ngāti Whakaue through this agreement".
The only part of Te Tiriti that relates to local governance is the Third Article, which promised, according to Professor Hugh Kawharu's translation, that "the Queen of England will protect all the ordinary people of New Zealand and will give them the same rights and duties of citizenship as the people of England".
British-style democratic citizenship locates sovereignty (the right to rule) equally in each eligible voter. Individual sovereignty is then aggregated through the ballot box. Citizens give their consent to be governed to elected members until the next election. Equal suffrage is therefore assumed by Te Tiriti. Voter parity is not one of the ''cornerstones'' of Te Tiriti.
The Fenton Agreement signed on November 25, 1880, enabled the government of the day to gain access to Ngāti Whakaue land and create Rotorua township. There were, however, many breaches of the contract in the early 1890s. Finally, in 1993, Ngāti Whakaue agreed "that this settlement will be in full and final settlement of ... the Fenton Agreement of 1880."
In my view, voter parity cannot now be evoked by the reference to the Fenton Agreement.
Further, the promotion of voter parity raised expectations but was at odds with our human right to equal suffrage in New Zealand's Bill of Rights. It is difficult to see how giving citizens on the Māori roll more than 2.6 times the voting power of citizens on the general roll to elect a councillor in the interim model, or three councillors in the ideal model, can be "demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society" as the bill requires.
Finally, everyone voting for candidates in the at-large seats would be fair and compliant with the Local Electoral Act. With the introduction of a Māori ward, three seats for voters on the Māori roll and seven seats for voters on the general roll would provide proportional representation and be compliant with the act.
In my opinion, neither the interim nor the preferred model complies with the formula in the act for calculating the number of seats in Māori and general wards. Both should be set aside in favour of three Māori seats and seven general seats, possibly with one additional rural seat, or revert to 10 at-large seats where all are elected on merit.
- Reynold Macpherson is chairman, Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers