Ōpōtiki District Council votes to implement Māori wards
Ōpōtiki District Council has voted in favour of Māori wards for the 2025 and 2028 local body elections at an Extraordinary Meeting yesterday [subs 20 November 2023].
Māori wards are a way of ensuring a Māori voice at the council table. They sit alongside general wards: people on the Māori electoral roll vote for councillors in Māori wards and people on the general roll vote for councillors in general wards. In the Ōpōtiki district, 57% of the district is on the General roll and 43% is on the Māori roll.
Ōpōtiki Mayor, David Moore, said that there was good discussion over recent months on the topic but for most councillors the decision hinged on the importance of voting rights at the council table.
“It was a robust debate and a range of views expressed, but at the end of the day, I think we came to a well-thought-through decision that will lead to better outcomes for all our communities.
“Better outcomes start with more people seeing their views represented at the council table – we get more people engaged and involved. I’d love to see better voter turnout and more people standing in elections to make sure different voices are heard. Part of that is the introduction of Māori wards,” Mayor Moore said.
However, the Mayor said that Māori wards wouldn’t replace the many other ways that council engages with Ōpōtiki’s three iwi organisations and that was an area for growth and improvement as well.
“It did come up during the meeting and it is also something we have talked over amongst ourselves and with our three iwi at various hui. There are other options we have discussed like sub-committees or MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] that would bring a Māori voice to the table. But these don’t come with voting rights. And it doesn’t necessarily recognise the difference between Māori wards and the formal and informal relationships we need to have with our iwi partners.
“Our iwi are at different stages in their Treaty processes but all three are strong and growing organisations with big plans for the coming decades. We all want the best things for our rohe and we have different ways of getting there. Our role as council is to make sure we have close ties so we don’t step each others toes and we can help each other achieves our goals,” Mayor Moore said.
The next steps for council will be to complete a Representation Review in 2024, considering factors like what a fair and effective number of elected members would be, how they should be elected, and whether they should be elected from wards or “at large” across the whole district (or a mix of both). The review would also look at the boundaries, names of wards and other communities of interest.
“There is still a lot of hard work to do on this, but today’s decision is a huge leap forward.
“The Representation Review will be key because that sets out what this decision will look like in real life – how many seats are needed to be transparent and representative but also not too big and cumbersome. We’ll be seeking a structure that really works for Ōpōtiki – something that reflects our various communities, the three iwi, and current wards. I encourage the Ōpōtiki community to really get involved as we go through that process next year,” Mayor Moore said.