Hamilton City Council will have two citywide Māori ward seats to fill at next year's local body elections and will task the new council to look at the option of new community committees to enable further community advocacy.
The new structure keeps the current six elected members for each general ward (East and West), and the mayor elected at-large - making a new total of 14 councillors plus the mayor.
Increasing the number of elected members does not mean more money is spent on councillor salaries. The salary pool is set by the Remuneration Authority and is divided between councillors and based on the population index.
Although the council agreed in May to introduce Māori wards in time for the October 2022 local government elections, the final structure was voted in last week after a wider representation review.
Governance manager Becca Brooke said this review was about ensuring fair and effective representation for all Hamiltonians.
"In the six-week public consultation period, the council received 451 submissions on the topic. Of the relevant submissions, approximately 50 per cent supported the council's initial proposal."
Of submissions not in support, there were a variety of proposals – more or fewer councillors, more or fewer wards, the introduction of community boards, and more or fewer Māori ward seats.
"Council also made a recommendation that the incoming 2022 elected council carry out a further review ahead of the required six-year interval, in light of a number of changes coming into force for the 2022-2025 triennium."
As well as the Māori ward seats being introduced, voting will change from first-past-the-post to the STV (single transferable voting) system.
Recognising the appetite for strong community advocacy, councillors voted unanimously to request staff prepare a report on options to introduce Community Committees. This would be considered by the new council following the 2022 election.
The decision to introduce Māori wards triggered the need for the council to review its representation structure. Mayor Paula Southgate, speaking before the review, said there was already a lot of change ahead for voters, noting more than half didn't vote in the last election.
"With the introduction of the STV voting system and Māori wards, we're not looking to make any other changes ... we are working hard to increase interest and engagement in council business," she said.
Any New Zealand citizen over 18 can stand for the general ward, Māori ward, or for mayor.
Only those on the Māori electoral roll can vote for candidates contesting a Māori ward seat. Only those on the general electoral roll can vote for candidates contesting an East or West ward seat (depending on where they live). Everyone can vote for the mayor.
The Māori wards will remain in place for two election cycles covering a total of six years - the 2022 and 2025 local government elections. A future city council could vote to end or alter the Māori, ward arrangements
Nominations for the Hamilton City Council election will open in June 2022.
Debate on the issue was prompted earlier in the year by the Government's introduction of the Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill. The bill required some councils to decide by May 21 if Māori wards should be established for next year's local government elections.
Previously, if 5 per cent of a council's population challenged the introduction of Māori wards, a binding poll was required. That option was removed.
When asked in May if a poll could be part of the review process, Southgate said it "was absolutely not an option".
Since 2018, Māori have been represented on Hamilton City Council by five Māngai Māori (the voice of Māori ), who are nominated by iwi (Waikato-Tainui) and mātāwāka (Māori not of Waikato-Tainui descent) organisations and have voting rights on council committees, but not at full council meetings.
Southgate described it as a "historic day" for Hamilton after the city council voted unanimously in May to go ahead with Māori ward seats. She thanked her councillors for careful consideration of all the issues and also thanked those who had shared their views, respectfully and courageously.
"We must continue to have courageous conversations and go forward, together. If we do not, we will not flourish as a city. I want to lead a city where we know and celebrate our differences because we are united on what matters most. I believe that is what everyone in our city wants and today we have taken an important step towards that," she said.
A te reo statement from the council said: "Kua tae te wa, kia anga whakamua kotahi tataou. E kii ai te koorero o te haapori, mehemea he kaupapa pai mo ngai Māori, aa he kaupapa rawe mo taatou katoa."
This means: "The time has arrived to move forward. The voice of the community has been heard. What is good for Māori, is good for everyone."