Horse bolts over Maori ward

ON THE WAY OUT: Renegade councillor John McLeod.
FAIRFAX NZ
ON THE WAY OUT: Renegade councillor John McLeod.

New Plymouth councillor John McLeod sensationally resigned last night moments after a Maori ward was passed by the council.

The councillor, who was first elected in 2007, handed in his resignation mid-meeting, after the council voted seven to six in favour of establishing a Maori ward for the 2016 local body elections.

His resignation from the New Plymouth District Council is effective immediately.

"The majority of this council has voted for a stance that is against my own personal principles in life," his resignation letter said.

"I cannot work in any environment that has a belief in separatist values, based on race, creed or religion."

The councillor, known to many as Horse, left the meeting straight away and did not return.

Mayor Andrew Judd said McLeod's resignation would cause a by-election for the New Plymouth district.

He said it was unfortunate that a councillor resigned over a community issue, and questioned why McLeod would leave over one issue that did not go his way.

However, Judd said McLeod's resignation should not overshadow the council's history-making decision.

After last night's tight vote New Plymouth became the the first district council in New Zealand to vote in favour of a Maori ward.

The win was not without controversy though.

Te Atiawa kaumatua Harry Nicholas, who is a retired police inspector, told the council it had not done enough consultation with iwi and hapu. He asked them not to pass Maori wards immediately, but to defer the decision until Maori had been consulted.

He said there were five iwi in the New Plymouth district and each iwi was autonomous and had its own constitution. Having only one seat to represent five iwi could cause major problems.

Dr Stuart Bramhall, who also spoke to councillors, said while she believed the council should vote in favour of Maori wards, she too would have supported deferring the decision so Maori could be consulted. Bramhall, who is a member of Grey Power New Plymouth, said there was dissent in Grey Power over the issue. While the organisation had threatened to force an $80,000 binding poll on Maori representation, not all members agreed with the anti-wards stance.

"The leadership of Grey Power is self-selected and no effort has been made to poll the members," she said.

A single seat for Maori was not enough, she said, but it was certainly a start and would help to diversify the council from being a "white old boys club".

While the council makeup did not represent women, young people or the poor, it had a unique opportunity to better represent Maori, she said.

Taranaki Iwi member, Fay Mulligan, of Ngati Tairi hapu, told the councillors to embrace the idea of Maori wards. While some people had said they viewed it as separatist, she said she heard no complaints about the Maori battalion being separatist.

However, she had heard people refer to Maori representation on the council as a "cancer". "That is racist," she said.

"If council don't vote for this they will be condoning that ignorance." Councillor Howie Tamati said the council had consulted with kaumatua and iwi chairs about the proposal and had to make a decision about a Maori ward immediately or would run the risk of missing out on the ward for the 2016 election.

"It's not necessarily the perfect way for iwi, but I believe it is a start," he said. However, councillor Len Houwers argued against the idea, saying "it was the wrong answer, for the wrong question, at the wrong time".

He said the decision should not be an emotional one and he would lose no sleep over it, as there were other ways to engage with Maori.

"My view is that we actually can it, it's not necessary. We could create better dialogue anyway."

Judd disagreed with that and said despite that people had told him he would be a one-term mayor if he voted for Maori wards, it was the right thing to do. He said when he first came up against the issue he thought: "That's too hard, you don't want to go there Juddy".

However, he could see the pain in the eyes of the Maori people who were telling him that they did not feel included. "I used to be one of those pakeha who thought, 'I'm sick of hearing it. Enough is enough. When are those Maori going to get over it'.

"But I see it differently now. "This is about more than a seat." He said the councillors had to think about the lives of their children and grandchildren and vote for equality and unity.

● Mayor Andrew Judd, deputy mayor Heather Dodunski, and councillors Shaun Biesiek, Gordon Brown, Craig McFarlane, Marie Pearce and Howie Tamati voted in favour of a Maori ward. Councillors McLeod, Keith Allum, Murray Chong, Len Houwers, Colin Johnston and Richard Jordan voted against the proposal.

Taranaki Daily News