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Government’s Māori Wards Bill A ‘Disturbing’ Breach Of Te Tiriti O Waitangi

Despite a Waitangi Tribunal Claim reporting that proposed Māori wards legislation is a breach of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the Coalition Government proceeded with introducing the Bill to Parliament on Monday 20th of May.

The Local Government (Electoral Legislation and Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill aims to reverse legislation on Māori wards which was passed in 2021 to level the playing field for Māori to be represented on local councils, by removing the ability to veto or disestablish Māori wards through local referendums.

Before the law was changed, 24 councils attempted to establish Māori wards but only three were successful in doing so. Councils and communities report that the barrier to implementing Māori wards was the rise of small groups of organised racists causing division and upheaval in local communities. Once the law was changed, the number jumped to 45 councils planning to adopt Māori wards.

The Coalition Government has promised to reverse the 2021 change and force a number of councils to either scrap their Māori wards or take them to a referendum in the 2025 election. Many councils have publicly stated their disagreement with the proposed change and that referendums are expensive, divisive and a distraction from meaningful issues. Local Government NZ says this decision is overreach from central government.

A Waitangi Tribunal claim granted urgency produced a report last Friday the 17th of May stating that the Bill proposed by National MP Simeon Brown breaches the Crown’s obligations to Te Tiriti o Waitangi. The Department of Internal Affairs also informed Brown that it could conflict with the Bill of Rights Act.

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Despite this, the Coalition pushed ahead with introducing the Local Government (Electoral Legislation and Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill yesterday.

ActionStation supported a number of local community groups to push for the 2021 change, and are disturbed by the Coalition’s willingness to breach Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

“Māori wards have been positive additions to local councils around the country. We have incredible people contributing to their communities, and making sure Māori voices are heard in local decision-making. But the Coalition Government plans to force these roles to be scrapped, purely to advance an ideological agenda, instead of respecting what is best for local communities. ” says Kassie Hartendorp, ActionStation Director.

The Waitangi Tribunal found that the Crown breached Te Tiriti o Waitangi on the basis of prioritising the coalition agreement over its Te Tiriti obligations and refusing to consult with its treaty partners.

“The ease in which the Coalition Government is riding roughshod over their obligations to Te Tiriti is disturbing. The Waitangi Tribunal is a key feature of our democracy that holds our governments to account on the agreement that our country was founded on. To ignore the Tribunal is to start to unravel our social and legal fabric,” says Hartendorp.

She says that if the law passes, the Coalition Government will be deliberately enabling small groups of racists to cause division and harm through referendums at local councils.

“This Government wants to drag us back into a racist past, and will ignore their treaty partners, local councils, their legal obligations and democratic community processes to do it.”

Information is yet to be released about next steps for consultation.

Notes:

Please see attached Waitangi Tribunal report or online version here: https://forms.justice.govt.nz/search/Documents/WT/wt_DOC_213683858/Maori%20Wards%20W.pdf

The Bill can be found here: The Bill can be found here - https://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/government/2024/0046/latest/whole.html?search=ad_bill______25_an%40bc%40rn%40dn%40apub%40aloc%40apri%40apro%40aimp%40bgov%40bloc%40bpri%40bmem%40rpub%40rimp_bc%40ainf%40anif%40bcur%40rinf%40rnif_y_aw_se_&p=1#d5650788e2

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