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Local Authorities Urged ‘Not To Wait’ For Education On Māori Wards

Following the passage of the Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Act on March 1st, a growing number of local authorities are opting to establish Māori wards for the 2022 local authority elections. Late last week the Manawatu District Council however voted to defer the decision to establish Māori wards, in part due to a desire to educate the public first to ensure support. Dr. Veronica Tawhai, citizenship education expert and senior lecturer in Māori development at Massey University, however, has advised local authorities “not to wait”.

“Certainly citizenship education on these matters is desperately needed. However the significant progress made in Māori-Crown relations to date has never been based on public education or readiness” states Dr. Tawhai. “We would not have the Waitangi Tribunal, Treaty of Waitangi settlements, joint management agreements or a range of other positive initiatives if we had waited for the wider public to be educated on these matters first. Yet, these have proved essential to the positive development of our country locally and nationally”.

Over recent decades reports such as the 2005 Constitutional Arrangements Select Committee and the 2013 Constitutional Advisory Panel have called for greater civics and citizenship education, including on Māori representation. Under the 1993 Electoral Act the Electoral Commission has responsibilities in this area. However, concerns New Zealanders are still not well-informed means some local authorities are hesitant to use their authority to decide on Māori wards themselves, despite support from mana whenua. Tawhai argues that, if education is the concern, an opportunity to educate the wider public is in the representation review process that each local authority must conduct following the establishment of Māori wards to decide its ward boundaries and number of councillors, which it must consult its communities on.

“Positive developments to date have occurred from the efforts of those committed to advancing the issues, and considered decision-makers who were ready to listen and responded accordingly. These leaders were aware of the poor state of public education on these matters, but would not let that prevent them from making positive changes. If it is the wishes of mana whenua, I urge local authorities to do the same” states Dr. Tawhai. “Education about Māori wards can be rolled out come representation review time. In the meantime, this important opportunity to better honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi shouldn’t be missed”.

Local authorities have until May 21st to decide whether they will establish Māori wards or constituencies for the 2022 local government elections.

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