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Bay of Plenty Regional Council Bill

Speech from Mita Ririnui - first reading of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council Bill

Mr Speaker
I move, that the Bay of Plenty Regional Council (Maori Constituency Empowering) Bill be now read a first time.

Mr Speaker
The purpose of this Bill is to allow the Bay of Plenty Regional Council to establish a Maori constituency for the election of councillors. Under the provisions of the Bill, the number of eligible voters on the Maori roll will be used to determine the proportionate number of Maori seats as compared with the number of non Maori or general seats on the council.

Mr speaker, this Bill is very important to the large number of my constituents who affiliate to the tribal confederations of Takitimu, Te Arawa, Mataatua and Horouta, these tribal confederations in turn represent the interests of 35 Iwi and some 200 hapu.

This Bill is intended to ensure that their views are represented on this key decision making authority, because it is this council that deals with matters pertaining to the development in the Bay of Plenty Region, or more specifically, the impact of development on the environment that these tribal confederations have had a infinite relationship with since the arrival of the great fleet.

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council encompasses 7 district councils fully or in part.

Mr Speaker, Maori in the Bay of plenty comprise some 28% of the regions total population as compared with the total New Zealand population of 14%. In some parts of the Bay of Plenty the proportion of Maori is much higher; within the Whakatane district the population is as high as 40%; in Opotiki it is 54%; and in Kawerau Maori make up 58% of the total population. Rotorua and Tauranga have Maori population of 27 and 16% respectively. The Bay of Plenty’s Maori population is expected to increase by 47%, or 30,500 people by the year 2021.

For several years there has been the concern, particularly amongst Maori regarding the level of Maori representation on the council and that the present system of election to Regional Council with constituencies based only on area and population, does not properly recognise the high proportion of Maori living in the Bay of Plenty.
Maori believe that direct representation would enable the council to have a greater understanding of its responsibilities to Maori under the Resource Management Act, and would also give Maori a greater understanding of the council’s sustainable management practices for the environment. Direct representation would also guarantee increased Maori participation in local government activities.

In 1996 a working party was formed by the council to investigate the establishment of a Maori electoral constituency. The working party consisted of Maori representation committee members, the council chairperson, the resource planning committee chairperson and the council general manager. In May 1998, the council Agreed to conduct a hearing of the submissions to a proposal for a Maori constituency, by an independent commissioner. Judge Peter Trapski was appointed to the position of commissioner and I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for his work.

In his report, Judge Trapski made three conclusions.

1. For whatever reasons, the fact is that in some places 16% of the populations in the Bay of Plenty, and in other, up to 58% of that population, clearly perceive that they are not represented at the council table,
and
2. That the adoption of the Proposal would deliver to Maori the same voting rights as others. Their voting rights would be no greater than those afforded to any other voter in the region and that he could see no way in which the proposal would enable Maori to “outvote” the other members of the Regional Council as a block. The Proposal would not in his view disadvantage anyone.
and
3. That the Proposal conforms with the delivery of the democratic process in New Zealand, and conforms also with New Zealand’s constitutional principles.

Judge Trapski went on to recommend:

‘That the Bay of Plenty Regional Council should continue to promote the establishment of a Maori Constituency in accordance with the Proposal under consideration’.

Mr speaker, I reiterate that what the bill does is allow the council to establish a Maori constituency. Those constituents who are currently on the Maori roll for the purposes of voting for central government will also be on a Maori roll for voting for the regional council.

The number of councillors elected to the Bay of Plenty Regional Council will increase from 11 to 12. Two of those members will be elected through the Maori roll.

Mr speaker, this Bill has created a great deal of interest and excitement for Maori in the Bay of Plenty and elsewhere. The concept is not new. During the 1980’s special legislation was passed to provide for Maori membership of the Auckland Regional Authority by creating constituencies reflecting not only the general electoral districts within the region, but the Maori electoral districts as well. But that electoral reform was repealed under the previous government during the 1992 local government electoral reforms.

Mr speaker, as a result of the changes promoted by this bill, I believe that the Bay of Plenty Regional Council will become a more representative and more effective local authority. There will be more balanced views on the Treaty and there will be partnership in decision making. The Council will also have a better understanding of its statutory responsibilities.
It is worth this House noting that this issue concerns the 35 iwi of the Bay of Plenty and their Regional Council who have carefully considered all aspects and have come together in a spirit of co operation and high mutual respect.

Secondly, I am aware of the Local Elections (single transferable vote option) Bill currently at select committee. I reinforce the voice of the people of the Bay of Plenty who do not see any conflict between this Bill and the STV Bill. I wish to ensure the House that both Bills can co-exist. Collectively they can enable a fairer system for local government elections.

Thirdly, this Bill does not seek to disadvantage or oppress as does an apartheid regime, nor does it seek to segregate. Instead this Bill seeks to ensure that the tangata whenua of the Bay of Plenty participate in local government matters in a manner that they have been precluded from in years gone by. I would like to the remind the House that this Bill proposes the same system that elected me and my five Maori colleagues to this parliament.

However, in saying that, Mr speaker, I accept that the general public of the Bay of Plenty should have a further opportunity to make submissions on this Bill, hence my wish to have it referred to Select Committee.

Mr speaker, the Bay of Plenty Regional councillors have pressed on with their belief that a solution must be found that ensures that Maori have a presence on the council. I want to congratulate council chairman John Kearney and council members and staff for their courage and determination to confront this long standing representation inequity. I’m sure their efforts have been an inspiration to many other regional councillors around the country.

I would like to say also that the work done over the past 5 years to bring about this Bill may not fairly reflect the huge efforts put in by iwi representatives and those councillors who spent much time and energy considering this matter. I believe this Bill provides an excellent example of how iwi and local government can work closely together.

Mr speaker, I will conclude by saying that I believe that this is the first time that all 35 iwi of the Bay of Plenty have collectively asked this House for support. This Bill deals with a local body requesting the authority to make a local decision and I as their local member support and echo their wishes in this House.

Mr speaker, I believe it is a modest request who in this House would deny them that?

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