Maori bodies major step forward - Wakatu boss

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 13:00 11/08/2011

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Nelson city supports setting up a Maori ward and a Maori community board if one local authority is formed in the region.

It is one item on a bigger list that the Nelson City Council wants to see under an amalgamation of the two councils.

The council's policy, planning and governance committee was set to approve the council's draft submission to the Local Government Commission at a meeting today.

The commission has proposed a single council for Nelson city and Tasman district with a mayor and 16 councillors, a second layer of five community boards, and its headquarters at Richmond. It proposes calling the new council the Nelson Tasman District Council.

The Tasman District Council was today finalising its submission opposing the commission's draft reorganisation proposal. Public submissions to the commission close next Friday.

The Nelson council supports the commission's proposal on the union of the Nelson and Tasman councils but thinks there is room for improvement for better local government here, including strengthening the proposed community board responsibilities, and providing for Maori representation across the region.

The council said in its submission that a Maori community board would "provide an appropriate mechanism" for the council to set up and maintain processes for Maori to have input into council decisions. A Maori community board would also serve the interests of Maori and the council well in the pending post-treaty settlement environment, the submission said.

The move has been welcomed by the head of one of the largest ratepayers in the region.

Wakatu Incorporation chief executive Keith Palmer said Maori had been "asking for a voice at the top table" for some time, but the creation of a Maori ward would be a major step forward.

The most recent census figures show that 8.7 per cent of the people in Nelson city and 7.1 per cent of the people in Tasman district belong to the Maori ethnic group.

Nelson-based Wakatu Incorporation, which owns a significant amount of land in Nelson and Tasman, is described as a "family business of the land and sea", whose more than 3500 shareholders descend from the rangatira and families of four iwi: Ngati Koata, Ngati Rarua, Te Atiawa and Ngati Tama.

Mr Palmer told commissioners at a hearing late last year on the proposed union that Wakatu was a "significant contributor" to the two local authorities. In that year it had made rates payments and contributions of more than $500,000.

He said a "false line" dividing Nelson and Tasman at Champion Rd did nothing to achieve optimum running of the province.

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Mr Palmer described engagement with Nelson city as "constructive", but with Tasman it was "breaking the defensive down". Wakatu had a memorandum of understanding with Nelson but not with Tasman, where it owned a lot more land.

At last year's council elections, three Maori stood unsuccessfully for election in Nelson city, but none in Tasman.

"Traditionally, Maori have not engaged well with local government. Consequently, there is significant history to overcome before demonstrable forward progress will become evident," Mr Palmer said.

He said yesterday Maori intentions were not intended to ignite a political backlash, but were a step towards putting in place what the law allowed.

The Local Government Act allowed Maori a seat on councils, but neither Nelson nor Tasman had done that, though Nelson had at least appointed a Maori liaison officer.

Mr Palmer said a lack of support and negativity towards Maori wishes were grounded in people's lack of understanding over what could be gained from them having a voice in local government.

"There's ignorance, but that's understandable, because people are busy."

An important part of the role would be imparting a greater understanding to the wider community of the value of Maori input, Mr Palmer said.

A portion of the $300 million heading to Te Tau Ihu (top of the south) in iwi settlements will filter into Nelson city and the wider region through investment planned by local iwi.

- The Nelson Mail

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