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Northland Regional Council Chair Faces Axe As Competing Political Perspectives Jostle

Northland Regional Council chair Geoff Crawford is facing the axe next week (May 28) after just over 170 days (173 days as of Monday May 20) in the top job.

If Crawford loses the chair’s role, it will be the third change at the head of the regional council's top table in 19 months – a situation never before seen in the council and unusual nationally.

First term councillor Crawford is just seven months into the job as seismic political changes continue to hit the council table, amidst ongoing tensions between loosely left-leaning and right-leaning political perspectives.

Former Northland Regional Council (NRC) chair and now deputy chair Tui Shortland (Ngāti Hine, Ngātiwai, Te Rarawa) is understood to have signed a notice of motion to remove Crawford from his role at NRC’s next council meeting on May 28.

She is part of a quintet of signatories also including Crs Jack Craw, Amy Macdonald, Marty Robinson and Rick Stolwerk that forms a 55 per cent generally more left-leaning majority.

When contacted by Local Democracy Reporting Northland, Crawford said he was aware of the move, which had blindsided him.

Crawford said he had been made aware of it less than 48 hours after returning from an overseas family trip.

NRC votes to push back against coalition Government’s Māori ward legislation changes. Photo: Susan Botting, Local Democracy Reporter Northland.
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He said he would accept the meeting's outcome, but would remain as a councillor, working hard to represent his Mid North general constituency’s mainly farming and forestry constituents.

This month’s move follows one by an earlier generally right-leaning NRC quintet who removed Craw, Macdonald, Robinson and Stolwerk from their key NRC council and inter-council governance roles in a clean-sweep manoeuvre in November.

That November quintet included Crawford, Shortland, John Blackwell, Joe Carr and Peter-Lucas Jones (Te Aupōuri, Ngai Takoto).

It selected Crawford and Shortland as NRC’s newly-paired NRC chair and deputy-chair, replacing Shortland as chair and Craw as deputy-chair.

Divisions at the council table have lingered, with at times acrimonious interactions among divided councillors.

Its top table echoes national political shifts that have played out since the October 2022 local elections and include last year's general election.

NRC is pushing back against Local Government Minister Simeon Brown’s plans to bring back the binding polls for new and existing Māori wards.

Prominent leader Pita Tipene (Ngāti Hine) who co-chairs NRC's Te Tai Tokerau Māori and Council working party (TTMAC) with Shortland, has warned. these Government changes will lead to the demise of the wards nationally.

Shortland was part of a Local Government New Zealand panel at this year’s Waitangi celebrations in favour of Māori wards.

NRC Crs (from left) Joe Carr, Marty Robinson and Amy Macdonald illustrating differing voting perspectives at NRC's November council meeting. Photo: Northern Advocate Michael Cunningham.

Crawford was overseas and did not participate in the April council meeting when NRC decided to write to Minister Brown expressing concern about the poll changes plan. Craw was overseas but participated via video from Samoa. The decision was a 6:2 majority vote among the eight politicians present.

Shortland, Craw, Macdonald, Jones, Robinson and Stolwerk voted in its favour, whilst Crs Blackwell and Carr did not.

Meanwhile, tough new Government plans for managing the quality of regional freshwater are among other contributions to the top table’s bubbling conflict.

In December, Crawford’s call said to scrap Te Mana o te Wai principles underpinning required regional freshwater plans angered Tipene.

The coalition Government has announced new changes around the previous Government’s freshwater management directives for regional councils.

Shortland became New Zealand’s first wāhine Māori regional council chair in October 2022 but stepped down in November, ahead of the original quintet’s actions. She said at that time her situation had become untenable.

NRC’s former chair Tui Shortland and former deputy chair Jack Craw headed the regional council from October 2022 until November. Photo: Northern Advocate Michael Cunningham

Shortland did not respond when asked why the pending move to oust Crawford was happening.

She also did not respond to questions on when a new NRC chair would be selected, pending the May 28 council meeting decision on Crawford.

NRC’s chief executive Jonathan Gibbard also declined to comment.

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