Marlborough iwi slam 'intolerant' email to gauge candidates' views on council iwi representatives

Ngati Apa ki te Ra To chief executive Butch Bradley says the letter to council candidates is indicative of "old world ...
SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ

Ngati Apa ki te Ra To chief executive Butch Bradley says the letter to council candidates is indicative of "old world thinking" that ignores the contributions of iwi.

Council hopefuls across the country have been quizzed on their stance on non-elected iwi representatives having voting powers on councils.

The New Zealand Centre for Political Research, a think-tank started by former Act MP Muriel Newman, emailed the questions out to newsletter subscribers so they could be circulated among local body candidates nationally.

Marlborough iwi have slammed the questions, including if candidates would move to have the positions disestablished, as "intolerant" and "old world thinking". 

It is understood most of the respondents in Marlborough were in favour of the status quo, where iwi representatives with voting rights were able to sit on council committees. 

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The email asked candidates to answer 'yes' or 'no' to three questions:

1. If you are elected, would you oppose iwi representatives being appointed onto your council with voting rights?

2. If you are elected and a proposal to appoint iwi representatives with voting rights onto your council wins majority support, would you counter it by proposing a public referendum so that the final decision is made by local ratepayers?

3. If your council already has established iwi representatives with voting rights, will you move that the positions be disestablished so they can be reconsidered by the new council?

Newman said she simply had an issue with the appointment of voting representatives in lieu of an election.

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"When you've got appointed members without the community having had a say, that totally goes against the foundation stones of democracy," she said.

"It changes the whole balance of power on a council, you put an extra two or three votes in there and all of a sudden you have things happening that democratically-elected councillors would never have approved."

Under the Resource Management Act and the Local Government Act, councils had an obligation to engage with iwi and seek their input, as well as increase their participation in local body decision-making.

Newman compared iwi representatives being appointed without election to groups such as Federated Farmers or Grey Power seeking to gain unelected influence in councils.

"It's the same principle, nobody should be appointed onto a council with voting rights because it does upset the whole process.

"Those questions were angled at iwi, but in fact they could have been angled at anybody."

Richard Bradley, the business development manager for Marlborough iwi Rangitane, labelled the questions intolerant.

"The questions and the manner in which they are presented are an example of the intolerance held by some in our community for minority groups," he said.

Bradley said prospective councillors should be asked how they would encourage iwi to invest their settlement assets in the region.

"If iwi are not valued by their local community and encouraged, rather than discouraged, to participate and invest in decision-making at all levels of council they will rightfully invest their economic and political influence in other regions.

"If that were to be the consequence of the narrow focus of the questions, the Marlborough ratepayers will be the unfortunate victims of slavish adherence to democracy."

Ngati Apa ki te Ra To chief executive Butch Bradley said the questions were indicative of "old world thinking" that ignored the contributions iwi made to the economic and political life of a region.

"We must accept that there is a section of the community for whom the prospect of 'uppity natives' sitting around the council table is a bit frightening," he said.

Newman said she made the email template after being contacted by people who wanted a resource to send to their local candidates. She planned to publish the responses on the New Zealand Centre for Political Research website.

She encouraged iwi members who wanted their voices to be heard in council to stand for election.

"If iwi desperately want to be on the council and have a say then put their names forward," Newman said.

"That's increasingly what's happening, so hopefully the whole idea of doing it through appointments will, in time, become a thing of the past."

Michael Staite, who was standing for the Rotorua Lakes Council, said Maori voices were often drowned out by majority Pakeha votes.

"If Maori contribution to our democracy through either appointment or election process enhances and strengthens the richness and wellbeing of our shared community – I am all for that."

 - The Marlborough Express

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