A Wairarapa iwi leader has branded as racist a backlash against the appointment of Maori representatives on Masterton District Council committees.

Nelson Rangi, chairman of the Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa board, was speaking after Auckland-based lobby group Democracy Action came out against a Masterton District Council move to appoint a representative from each of two Wairarapa iwi authorities in the region, Rangitane o Wairarapa and Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa.

Mr Rangi was also an iwi leader on the Ara Tahi partnership with Greater Wellington Regional Council and had previously been president of the East Bay of Plenty Chamber of Commerce, a borough councillor and district councillor and member of the Bay of Plenty Area Health Board.

The motion to appoint the representatives, with full voting rights, to the finance and policy and the audit and risk committees was carried by seven votes to two with councillors Gary Caffell and Brent Goodwin opposed.


The representatives are expected to be appointed by July subject to a selection committee for each appointment.

Democracy Action stands for only "elected and accountable" territorial authority members having voting rights, group chairman Lee Short said, and should iwi authorities seek council influence "they should have had their representatives stand for elected office".

Mr Rangi countered his argument, saying both health and regional authorities comprising elected and appointed members had been functioning for years.

He was familiar with the Democracy Action group and aware of sentiments shared in text and letters to the Wairarapa Times-Age editor slating the appointments "as undemocratic".

The repercussions against the appointments from members of the Wairarapa community and the political pressure group were discriminatory against Maori, he said, when viewed alongside the popular outcry, like in New Plymouth, regarding Maori local body wards.

"A lot of people have been asking how could they fairly represent people when they haven't been elected. Well, the regional council for instance has had this self-same thing, iwi appointees on their committees, with full voting rights, for years.

"Then there's the regional council's natural resources planning committee that's 50:50, and every district health board in the country that's made up of elected members and appointees and they have a chair that's a ministerial appointment; and yet there hasn't been a peep from anybody about any of that."

Appointees are chosen for their expertise and skills, particularly in health boards when there is a weakness among elected members, he said, and "they'll pick someone to strengthen that part".

"Specific wards for Maori are also decried as non-representative of the majority when the fact is that every councillor has been elected only by those ratepayers in their particular ward. The only difference I can see is that one case involves Maori and that leaves me to conclude only one thing, racial discrimination.

"Discrimination is a real thing. The government has come to that conclusion and that's why they're paying out billions to redress some of those sort of things, and this was a calculated and wilful discrimination down through the years."

Mr Rangi cited a statement from James Prendergast, third chief justice of New Zealand, "who wrote that Maori should be allowed to die out and the sooner the better".

"He was a man of his time and only echoing what everybody else thought about it, and I have to say that from what I'm reading there is still a very large number of people who share that same sentiment today."

PJ Devonshire, chief executive of Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, said the appointment of a representative from each of the two Wairarapa iwi was a bold and legitimate adherence to the Treaty of Waitangi, specifically the first and second articles.

"It's a courageous move by Masterton District Council; a maturing of the country and a maturing of Wairarapa. It's about equity and rangatiratanga (sovereignty) as well," he said.

Representatives of Rangitane o Wairarapa declined to comment.