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Former Northland Councillor Says Māori Wards Fine – If Polls Held

A former Northland local government leader who resigned in protest over his council bringing in a Māori ward says he would be happy with this form of political representation.

But the former Northland Regional Council (NRC) deputy chair and councillor John Bain said that was only if the public voted for them to be introduced, continued or removed, rather than councils alone making the call.

One-time NRC deputy chair John Bain (left) and former Act candidate Robin Grieve with Democracy Northland's petition calling for Māori ward polls
Photo: Susan Botting - Local Democracy Reporter Northland

Fourteen-year NRC politician Bain walked out of his council’s October 2020 meeting after it decided to bring in its first Māori constituency without asking its people via a binding poll.

Northland was the first region in New Zealand to have all its councils introduce wards. Forty-two local government politicians led Northland’s four councils, which brought in the region’s first Māori wards in 2022.

NRC, Far North District Council (FNDC), Kaipara District Council (KDC) and Whangārei District Council (WDC) politicians voted to do so, after then Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta wiped communities’ ability to demand a binding poll through legislation change. None of these wards were brought in with a poll.

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“They didn’t have the mandate to vote on this particular issue. It’s too big for a council,” Bain said.

“I am not against Māori wards, I am against councils deciding on these for themselves, without asking their people first,” Bain said.

“Democracy is so important it must be put to the people to see where the chips fall.

“If a proper legitimate poll was held and 50.01 per cent voted to have a Māori ward, I would be happy to have this as it was elected in a democratic way.”

Bain welcomed the coalition Government’s plan to bring back compulsory binding polls for Māori wards, saying it was great for democracy.

“We were right, from the beginning,” Bain said.

Bain formed lobby group Democracy Northland in 2020, a month after resigning from NRC, spearheading a petition campaign calling for binding polls on local Māori wards. It gathered petition signatures from well above the five per cent of electors required to force Northland Regional Council and Kaipara and Whangārei district councils into that action.

He said the new Government direction was a positive move for the region and its councils.

“It’s an excellent move for local government right throughout the country,” Bain said.

Democracy Northland got 15,800 verified petition signatures from the 18,600 NRC, KDC and WDC signatures collected.

These were presented to the three councils in early 2021, in spite of Mahuta’s Local Electoral Act legislation change voiding their intent.

There were 7.25 per cent of Northland Regional Council registered electors who called for that to happen. Bain and his supporters, including former Act candidate Robin Grieve, presented the petition to council.

The petition from 8.8 per cent of registered electors and backed by now Kaipara Mayor Craig Jepson was presented to Kaipara District Council.

And Democracy Northland’s Frank Newman presented petition signatures from 8.34 per cent of registered Whangārei District Council electors

Northland has four Māori wards and nine councillors elected to represent these, with a prominent leader warning the new Government direction will be a death knell for wards across New Zealand.

Bain said Māori ward councillors could stand again in general wards if their Māori ward disappeared.

Bain said he would be watching to see which way councils moved on Māori wards once the signalled Local Electoral Act poll change and its details were finalised as signalled in July.

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