Hamilton City Council, Waipā District Council, and Waikato District Council have all voted to establish Māori wards in time for the next local government elections in 2022.
The number of Māori wards is determined by population numbers, with the city council expected to have two wards and the district councils one each. Details will be decided when the councils review their representation arrangements later this year.
Last week's decisions by the three councils means 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 or district council could vote to end or alter the Māori ward arrangements which will now be put in place.
The introduction of Māori wards means voters on the Māori electoral roll can vote for candidates contesting a council's Māori wards, rather than for a candidate contesting a general ward. Māori ward candidates do not need to be on the Māori electoral roll.
Hamilton City Council's unanimous vote to establish Māori wards was made at an extraordinary council meeting on May 19 and followed community consultation between April 16 and May 10.
The city council received 994 submissions, with staff analysis indicating that more than four out of five responses (81 per cent) favoured the council introducing Māori wards to achieve better representation.
Hamilton mayor Paula Southgate said it was a "historic day" for Hamilton and that the city would be better for the unanimous vote. 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 says: "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."
Which 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."
Waipā District Council received 879 submissions on the establishment of a Māori ward over four weeks. Of those submissions, 84 per cent supported a Waipā Māori ward with 16 per cent against.
Of submissions from within the Waipā district, 73 per cent supported a Māori ward.
Mayor Jim Mylchreest said that all Waipā councillors, whether elected in a general ward or Māori ward, would continue to be charged with representing the interests of the whole district.
He also noted that, based on the 2018 census, 15 per cent of people in Waipā identify as Māori.
"The consultation feedback suggests to me that there is far broader support for a Māori ward among the wider community than some people might have expected; that's certainly what I've picked up and I'm heartened by that," he said.
"Māori are our Treaty partners and we have an obligation to incorporate Māori perspectives in decision-making and ensure we encourage Māori participation and representation. There are huge benefits for all of us and for our whole district in doing that."
The decision to establish a Māori would not impact upon the four iwi representatives (Te Konohi) who currently have full voting rights on four Waipā District Council committees. The current Te Konohi appointments will run until October 22.
Waikato District mayor Allan Sanson says establishing Māori wards aligns with the general views of Waikato iwi and hapū, with the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and with the council's legislative obligations to facilitate and foster Māori participation in council's decision-making.
The Māori ward decision follows a WDC resolution earlier in May to revoke an earlier decision not to establish Māori wards for the 2022 local authority elections.
The revocation was undertaken because of the passing of Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Act 2021, which repealed provisions in the Local Electoral Act 2001 for holding polls on whether to establish Māori wards.
Sanson says the historic decision builds on Waikato District Council's commitment to strengthening the Māori voice and role in council decision making.
"In 2019 we created full-voting committee member roles called Māngai Māori on our three principal standing committees. This has been hugely successful," he says.
"Over recent years we have consistently built stronger and closer working relationships with our iwi partners. This decision today for us, as a local authority in the heart of the Kingitanga, is simply the next logical step and frankly it's just the right thing to do.