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‘More Harm Than Good’: Council Calls For Government Rethink On Māori Wards

Forcing councils to hold a referendum on their decisions to introduce Māori wards will create division and needless cost for ratepayers, says a district mayor.

Rangitīkei mayor Andy Watson says it will do more harm than good if the coalition Government reverses the law allowing councils to determine if they have Māori wards.

“We have previously decided that these are the best representation arrangements for all of our community, and it is proving correct,” Watson said.

“The knowledge and perspective that has been provided to us at the council table is a taonga and we believe that the government relitigating this as an issue will create more division.”

The coalition government’s Māori wards legislation was rushed through its first reading last week. The legislation requires councils to ditch Māori wards set up without a referendum or hold a binding poll at the 2025 elections on whether to keep the wards.

Watson said since the introduction of its two Māori wards, Tiikeitia ki Tai (Coastal) and Tiikeitia ki Uta (Inland), Rangitīkei council had received valued input and information around the council table.

“We feel that Māori wards have not just benefited Māori and local iwi, but also the wider community.

“If this legislation passes, we’ll be forced to have a referendum on our Māori wards.”

Rangitīkei District Council is calling on the government to reconsider. It says a referendum would poll the entire community, not just those on the Māori electoral roll who are directly impacted.

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“This is an overreach by the government, who have said that they want to devolve more responsibility to councils,” Watson said.

The council has invited Local Government Minister Simeon Brown to Rangitīkei to meet with its Māori ward representatives and the full council to hear views on the proposed legislation.

Tiikeitia Ki Uta Māori ward councillor Piki Te Ora Hiroa said the introduction of Māori wards this term was a positive step forward in helping all councils work toward being a better treaty partner.

“Embracing diversity, and recognising the skills, talents, relationships, and perspectives from a Te Ao Māori viewpoint does not make the decision-making processes any lesser but in fact strengthen our decisions,” Hiroa said.

“As a Ngati, I am proud to carry my whānau, hapū and iwi into a space that once upon a time was dominated by one culture.”

Tiikeitia ki Tai councillor Coral Raukawa said Māori wards contribute to fostering cultural understanding, promoting reconciliation, and strengthening the relationship between local government and Māori communities “as it has done for the Rangitikei District Council”.

“And to hold a referendum on something that is already established and working is another burden on the rate payers,” Raukawa said.

The Rangitīkei council also opposed the proposed changes to Māori wards in a joint letter last week by Local Government New Zealand, signed by 52 mayors, chairs and the co-chairs of Te Maruata, which represents Māori elected members.

Brown has previously said requiring referendums on Māori wards would restore the rights of communities to have a say in their governance arrangements.

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