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Government Bill Rushed: Waikato Regional Council Submission

Waikato Regional Council has sent a clear message to the Government that proposed legislative changes impacting Māori wards and constituencies are “inequitable”.

The Local Government (Electoral Legislation and Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill seeks to reinstate polls on Māori wards and constituencies. The change requires councils to hold a binding poll at the 2025 local elections if they had established Māori wards or constituencies since 2020 and did not hold a poll. It also adjusts the statutory timeframes for local elections to give more time for the postal delivery of voting papers.

Councillors noted that less than one week had been given for submissions on the bill, requiring the matter to be added late to the end of the long term plan deliberations meeting on Tuesday, 28 May.

In an 8-5 vote, the council delegated approval of the lodgment of the submission to Chair Pamela Storey and Chief Executive Chris McLay.

Chair Pamela Storey said: “The one-week timeframe to submit to this bill emphasises the government's unwillingness to genuinely engage with the public and places unrealistic pressure on local government to respond adequately. 

“Nonetheless, we appreciate the opportunity to provide our input and trust that our concerns, along with those of other councils, local government agencies, and iwi Māori, will be considered with genuine open-mindedness.”

Waikato Regional Council established two Māori constituencies in time for the 2013 elections and these are not affected by the draft bill.

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Prior to amendments in 2021, the council was one of just three in New Zealand to have Māori wards and constituencies. The 2021 amendments removing poll provisions that had hindered many councils had led to a significant increase in wards and constituencies, enabling greater participation and inclusion of Māori perspectives in council decision-making processes, said the council in its submission.

The council’s submission notes that “our Māori councillors significantly contribute to meeting our obligations to Māori and bring a strategic Māori perspective that has driven positive change”.

The submission draws attention to the obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi to ensure Māori have the right to participate in decisions affecting their lands, waters, and taonga, and says restoring poll provisions specifically for Māori wards and constituencies “imposes an inequitable higher procedural standard compared to other wards and constituencies”.

“The lack of proper consultation with Māori in developing this Amendment Bill breaches the Treaty principle of partnership. Genuine consultation must include Māori voices and respect their input in decisions that affect their representation,” the submission said.

The council recommended the government does not restore poll provisions for Māori wards and constituencies, and ensures decisions on Māori wards and constituencies are made by local councils in consultation with their communities, especially iwi and hapū.

It also recommends genuine consultation with Māori on any future changes affecting their representation in local government.

When it comes to local elections, the council has called on the government to improve processes to support greater voter participation, including supporting the implementation of online voting options, ensuring robust security and accuracy measures.

The council has also emphasised the importance of having the latest census data available in time for mandated representation reviews to ensure accurate and fair representation in local body elections.

You can read the council’s submission online: waikatoregion.govt.nz/policy-submissions

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