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Far North Mayor Hits Out At Government Māori Ward Changes

Far North Mayor Moko Tepania has hit out at the Government’s proposed Māori wards changes as two Northland councils prepare to push back.

Far North District Council and Northland Regional Council are set to oppose the coalition Government’s signalled changes to Māori wards.

The Government plans to require a binding referendum for their continuation or establishment and also allow for councils to get rid of the wards before the next local election in 2025 without consultation.

The legislation supporting the changes is expected to be in place by July.

Councils – including Northland Regional Council and Far North, Kaipara, Whangārei district councils - that have previously set up Māori wards without a referendum will have to hold a binding community poll at the local elections in 2025 to keep them.

Far North Mayor Moko Tepania played a key role in the introduction of his council's Ngā Tai o Tokerau Māori ward. Photo: Susan Botting Local Democracy Reporter Northland

“I am personally disheartened with the government’s plan for a referendum on Māori wards at a time where we are already on the back foot with core issues affecting Far Northerners,” Tepania, who is also Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ)’s Northland board member, said.

“The signalled changes only affect our Māori ward and not any of our general wards, which were also established without binding referendums in our last representation review,” Tepania said.

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Tepania had a key role in establishing Far North District Council's new Ngā Tai o Tokerau Māori Ward (SUBS: hyperlink crucial role with this URL ).

He said the proposed changes undermined the council’s decision-making process for creating the Māori ward, which had been affirmed by the Local Government Commission.

The Government changes also caused undue cost, time and stress for communities and local politicians, he said.

“I am extremely proud of our entire council and will ensure that our Ngā Tai o Tokerau councillors feel valued for their contribution representing Far Northerners as we work through the implications of these proposed changes,” Tepania said.

Meanwhile, Ngāti Kuri chair Harry Burkhardt said Māori wards needed to stay.

Burkhardt co-chairs the Northland Iwi Chairs Forum Te Kahu o Taonui, which represents a dozen Te Tai Tokerau iwi, and chairs Far North council's new Te Kuaka-Te Ao Māori standing committee.

He said Māori wards had been hard won and were working for the community.

Far North District Council’s Te Kuaka -Te Ao Māori committee deputy-chair Hilda Halkyard-Harawira said the ward had encouraged more Māori to stand for council - 18 people ran for the ward’s four politicians’ roles.

Its presence had brought improved grassroots Māori participation in local government democracy, Halkyard-Harawira said.

“We’ve got Māori from Panguru and Mitimiti (in remote North Hokianga) coming in and talking with the council in ways they had not done previously,” Halkyard-Harawira said.

The presence of the ward’s four councillors had supported efforts by the local community to stop wastewater disposal into Hokianga Harbour, Halkyard-Harawira said.

Halkyard-Harawira said the council would likely make a submission to the Government articulating abhorrence at the Māori ward changes.

She wanted to know whether it was those on the Māori roll who choose the Māori ward councillors or the general population as a whole voted in the binding referendums.

Far North District Council’s Te Kuaka-Te Ao Māori committee is expected to formally endorse the continuation of the council’s Ngā Tai o Tokerau Māori Ward for the 2025 elections at its meeting on Tuesday (SUBS: April 22), ahead of a full council decision.

Meanwhile, the Northland Regional Council is expected to formally vote on Tuesday to express its concerns on the Government’s proposed amendments.

A standalone Northland Regional Council Māori constituency poll in 2025 would cost almost $500,000, the Tuesday meeting agenda item said.

Local Government Minister Simeon Brown approached for his comment on the Northland leaders’ concerns but was unable to respond by publication time.

“The proposed Bill has significant implications for Te Tai Tokerau given around 35 per cent of our population identify as Māori and that more generally across New Zealand there have been widespread shortfalls in Māori representation on councils.”

The regional council is likely to oppose signalled Local Electoral Act changes on the basis Māori constituencies were not raced-based selections but a “Te Tiriti/Treaty outcome appropriate to deliver equity”.

Meanwhile, Whangārei District Council (WDC) has not publicly revealed its position on the proposed changes.

WDC general manager strategy and democracy Aaron Taikoto said the council would make a decision once the proposed policy become law.

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