Palmerston North contemplates setting up a Maori ward

Palmerston North is considering setting up a Maori ward to ensure it has Maori councillors in the chamber.
MURRAY WILSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Palmerston North is considering setting up a Maori ward to ensure it has Maori councillors in the chamber.

Palmerston North could have a Maori ward or wards at the next local body elections.

The city council on Monday approved a discussion document that will go out for public consultation in August, resisting a staff suggestion that the topic could be controversial.

The draft discussion document said the subject was "a very controversial issue", but councillors asked for the comment to be removed.

It was a reference to the experience of former New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd, who suffered abuse, including being spat at, over his unsuccessful bid to have a Maori ward set up for the 2016 elections.

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Palmerston North mayor Grant Smith said assuming the same sort of thing might happen here was "guessing".

"This city has changed enormously over the decades and we are a very diverse city.

"New Plymouth had problems, but I think if we consult with everyone, including on marae, we might be surprised at the level of acceptance."

Cr Rachel Bowen said it was time the city had "a mature and balanced" decision about Maori representation.

She said the introduction of single transferable voting was expected to bring a more diverse group of councillors elected and make it easier for Maori candidates to succeed.

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"But after two elections, that has still not been delivered."

The current council has no Maori councillors.

A Maori ward or wards would guarantee there was a Maori voice or two on the council

Cr Aleisha Rutherford said she supported the public review of whether Maori wards should be set up.

But, she said, the most important part of the consultation would be to ensure that Maori were involved and that their views were given greater weight than those of the community at large.

Cr Brent Barrett said the council should not go into the debate with a suggestion the process would be controversial, or that it had any predisposed view on the outcome. "We can be more neutral."

Legal counsel John Annabell told councillors the number of Maori wards or representatives would be set following a formula set out in the Local Electoral Act.

In Palmerston North's case, with 8800 people enrolled on the Maori electoral roll, and with 15 council seats, it was likely there would be one or two Maori seats.

That could mean having one Maori ward, with up to two councillors to be elected, or two separate wards with one each.

The discussion document acknowledged the system would give Maori voters less influence than those on the general roll over the whole make up of the council.

Maori voters would only get to vote for one or two councillors, while the rest of the city would be involved in voting for more than a dozen seats.

It said it was important Maori voters were aware of that possible challenge, so they could weigh up the options.

"It is likely that in choosing to be on the Maori roll for national elections in the first place that their priority is having a Maori voice on issues of priority for them, and in doing so, have foregone voting for general candidates."

Consultation will be held in August and September. After hearing submissions, the council would make a call in October. Its decision could be challenged if 5 per cent of voters demanded a poll.

The council was unanimous in putting the proposal for Maori wards to the public.

 - Stuff

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