Almost all the Taupō district councillors support establishing Māori wards for the Taupō district - but they differ on the timing, with one saying "bigotry or ignorance" might see the decision overturned.
The Taupō District Council held an extraordinary meeting this morning to consider Māori representation and whether to establish Māori wards for the Taupō district, with around 15 iwi members in attendance in the public gallery. After half an hour of discussion, the decision to establish Māori wards passed by majority vote of seven to three.
It is expected that there will be two Māori ward members for Taupō district.
However the resolution could be overturned by a voter-demanded poll - and if that happened, the council would not be able to reconsider Māori wards for another six years.
The cost of a poll would be between $85,000 to $90,000 and some councillors said they feared that lack of understanding in the community might result in a poll being demanded.
The matter was last considered in November 2017, when the council resolved not to establish Māori wards but instead to work collaboratively with local iwi, individuals and Māori entities to assess options for Māori representation. That work has started, but is not complete. However, the council had also resolved it would review Māori representation in 2020.
A meeting held last month included feedback that iwi and hapū sought better representation on council given that a large proportion of the land area of the Taupō district (60 to 70 per cent) is Māori-owned. Te Kotahitanga o Ngāti Tūwharetoa, the mandated iwi authority to represent Ngāti Tūwharetoa when dealing with entities such as the Crown and local authorities, also discussed the subject of Māori wards last Saturday and a letter from Te Kotahitanga which arrived at this morning's meeting was that it supported each hapū making its own decision on whether or not to support the adoption of Māori wards. The letter said several hapū had expressed their clear commitment to proceeding with the Māori ward system, while others were undecided.
At today's meeting, each councillor had the opportunity to share their position on Māori wards. Cr John Boddy did not state a view but all the other councillors were in favour of going ahead with Māori wards.
However, councillors Anna Park and John Williamson both felt the timing was wrong because there was a lack of understanding in the community and the potential for a poll to overturn the decision.
"I believe that the Māori view should be at every level through council and I support that...but I'm of the view that if we vote for the Māori seats for the 2022 election today it will invoke a poll and I don't think the outcome will be favourable and that will then bind us for six years," Cr Park said. "I'm not willing to take that gamble."
Cr Kathy Guy agreed, saying she was in favour of working together, understanding, equity and power-sharing but she worried about a possible poll.
"I feel that a poll may be subjective. I don't think that the community have the same level of understanding that we do. We around this table very much value our relationship with Māori and I certainly would want that to continue [so] I have concerns about rushing into this."
Cr John Williamson went further, saying he was concerned about some of the views he was hearing.
"Whether it's bigotry or ignorance or we need more understanding to explain, it's our role as councillors to go out and listen to the community and also to explain our relationships going forward.
"There seems to be a view that it's a takeover [by Māori ] which is nonsense, it's getting Māori at the table and moving forward."
But Cr Tangonui Kingi said although he agreed about the timing, it was time to "draw a line in the sand".
"I think today is that day for us. We have an obligation as community leaders to support the aspirations of all in our community and I implore my colleagues to do what's right to move our district and community forward."
Cr Yvonne Westerman said the council stood at a fork in the road.
"We can choose uncertainty and the status quo or we can open our arms to the cooperation, collaboration and richness of collective wisdom that this will bring...I would very much like to see this proceed."
Finally, Mayor David Trewavas weighed in saying the council needed to "get moving".
"To have Ngāti Tūwharetoa representation around the table is a landmark decision for this council...I would have much honour today in moving the resolution."
The council resolution was supported by the majority, with councillors Anna Park, John Williamson and John Boddy voting against it. It was greeted with applause from the public gallery.