A controversial bill that would increase Māori voting rights in Rotorua's local elections cannot be justified and discriminates against general roll voters, the Attorney-General has found.
The Rotorua District Council Representation Arrangements Bill aims to change the law to allow the council to have equal Māori ward and general ward seats, with three each. The other four council seats and the mayor would be elected at-large, plus two community boards.
The local bill has passed its first reading and been referred to the Māori Affairs Committee, which began hearing verbal submissions today.
In his Bill of Rights analysis presented today to the House of Representatives, Attorney-General David Parker concluded the bill appeared to limit the act's right to be free from discrimination, and cannot be justified.
His analysis was based only on the text of the bill and publicly available information released by the council and the Local Government Commission.
"The conclusion I have reached, that the bill cannot be justified ... is largely due to the absence of information and analysis available to provide justification for the limit on the right to freedom from discrimination."
Parker said in a representative democracy, it was important to maintain much the same level of representation for everyone.
"The bill creates a disparity in the number of people represented by each ward council member.
"[It] would make the number of council members for the Māori ward disproportionately higher than the number of council members for the general ward in comparison to their respective populations."
This meant those on the general, non-Māori roll were disadvantaged and discriminated against, as they could not change their roll.
He said there was "no doubt" that improving opportunities for Māori to contribute to local government decision-making processes, including making better provision for Māori representation, was an important objective.
Alternative, less discriminatory options could be considered but may not achieve the council's ideal.
He said the bill needed to be carefully considered and that if it was replicated in other councils, it could have significant impacts which "may be better considered in full by central government".
Parker said he did not have full knowledge of the "complex history" that led to the council promoting this local bill as a solution.
"My opinion has been based on the bill itself and publicly available documents, which means there is limited information to assist a justification analysis."
While the proposals in the bill could be justifiable, he did not have enough information to conclude the model proposed in the bill was a proportionate response to the problem it sought to address and the desired objective.
National's justice spokesman Paul Goldsmith called for the bill to be scrapped following the report.
"The bill gives greater voting rights to people on the Māori roll and this cannot be justified."
He said it would be a "constitutional outrage" to abandon the principle of equal suffrage - one person one vote - and that the bill would make Māori roll votes worth two and a half general roll votes.
The bill's sponsor and Māori Affairs Committee chairman Tāmati Coffey said it was a local bill, so the changes were being requested by the council and not the Government.
"As such the Rotorua District Council will need to consider the implications of the Bill of Rights analysis, alongside the Select Committee."
Rotorua Lakes Council chief executive Geoff Williams said the council worked with legal advisers and Government officials from the Parliamentary Counsel Office and the Department of Internal Affairs in drafting the bill and would continue to do so through the remainder of the process.
"The report of the Attorney-General flagged a need for more information.
"His conclusion was caveated with a note that it was based on the bill itself and publicly available documentation."
The bill must pass its second and third readings and then receive royal assent via the Governor-General to become law.
The council sought to have the bill passed by June in time for the local election.