Māori Wards for Ōpōtiki District?
Recent changes to government legislation allows councils to decide on whether to include Māori wards as part of how they elect their representatives. You may remember our neighbours in Whakatāne voted to establish Māori wards and we celebrated that decision with them in May last year.
This year, when you get your voting papers for local government elections (around now), you will also be asked a question in a non-binding poll about whether Ōpōtiki District Council should establish Māori wards.
Each part of Aotearoa is a little different, so the shape and form of our council will be different to other parts of the country. That is an important part of LOCAL democracy.
It is a bit of a lengthy process, so I’ll outline it here so people know what to expect when they get their voting papers and what happens afterwards.
If the community votes to include Māori wards, it is not as simple as adding Māori wards on top of what we already have – you can imagine that it could create a large, unwieldy council with twice as many councillors representing the same number of people.
That means, once we have the results of the poll, Council will need to carry out a representation review. A representation review means going back to basics – thinking about what a fair and effective number of elected members would be, how they should be elected, whether they should be elected from wards (including Māori wards) or “at large” across the whole district, or by a mix of both. The review would also look at the boundaries, names of wards and other communities of interest.
We then work to draft up the arrangements that the Ōpōtiki community think are best (we do a lot of consultation on the representation review draft because it is hugely important) and council vote to adopt that. But our local decision can be appealed to the Local Government Commission, and they then get to look through everything and make any further changes. You might remember a bit of media coverage around this process in Rotorua.
So back to step one: the non-binding poll. The voting papers that will soon start showing up in your letterboxes are a great (but not the only) chance to make your voice heard on whether you think Ōpōtiki should have Māori as well as General wards.
There are a few things to consider when you vote:
- There are currently seven seats on council with three elected from the Ōpōtiki ward, two elected from the Waioeka/Waiotahe/Otara ward and one from the Coast ward. The mayor is elected ‘at large’ which means by everyone.
- Our current make-up of councillors is around half Māori half non-Māori.
- Having Māori wards does not mean democratic representation is compromised. The essence of democratic representation is that each vote has the same power. Applying representation reviews using population statistics ensures that this is maintained should Māori wards be introduced.
- If Māori wards were adopted, those on the Māori parliamentary roll would vote for candidates standing for Māori wards and if you are enrolled on the general electoral roll you would vote for candidates standing for general wards. All electors would still vote for the mayor. It is worth remembering that, just like in general elections, you can only vote for candidates standing for vacancies on your roll.
- You also can’t easily change rolls – if you are already enrolled, the next time you can change rolls is in 2024. And that means you’d probably be on the same roll for General elections and for Local Government elections. There is a national review underway at the moment on the process and timing for changing rolls, but outcomes from that are still some way off.
- In the 2018 census, approximately 64% of people in the Ōpōtiki district said they were Māori.
- About half of the district is on the General roll and about half is on the Māori roll. So a representation review would likely lead to half Māori wards and half General wards.
- Māori wards don’t necessarily result in mana whenua candidates being elected however mana whenua contribution to decision making is not in any way optional. Councils are legally required to provide opportunities for Māori and in particular mana whenua, to contribute to the decision-making processes under the Local Government Act 2002.
- We have okay but not great voter turn-out for our local government elections – higher than the national average (42%) but still pretty disappointing. Would having Māori wards encourage more people to participate in local government, by standing for office and voting at local elections?
So when your local government election papers arrive in the coming days, you will see with it a question about Māori wards for the Ōpōtiki district. I encourage you to do a little bit of research and think about the topic and then have your say and vote!
We all want to find a way to ensure that everyone in the Ōpōtiki District has the opportunity to vote for someone that represents their views and will make decisions for the current and future well-being of our community.