Maori wards decision time

New Plymouth's sole Maori district councillor, Howie Tamati, hopes his community can push aside its fears and accept the idea of two dedicated Maori seats around the council table.

The decision on whether to create two Maori wards in the district goes before the council tomorrow and it is far from certain which way they will jump.

From a promising start that saw the idea recommended by the council's influential policy committee, support for the move appears to have slipped away.

Waitara, Clifton and Inglewood community boards all rejected the idea and, perhaps more significantly, Grey Power has pledged to lend its weight to any move to force a district-wide and binding poll on the issue.

Mr Tamati does not want to see it come to that, but that battle may never come. First it must get past his colleagues.

"There are a lot of good people around, councillors who have other views of the world and are prepared to share. I would like to see it pushed out to test the community. I would like to think we have moved forward in the last five, 10, or 15 years," he said.

If the idea is not accepted Mr Tamati believes unfounded fears will be to blame.

"I don't know what those fears are. It's like when you are walking down an alley and the lights aren't on. They are scared of what you can't see," he said.

Should that fear derail the Maori wards the council itself knows its amicable relationship with Maori could be damaged.

A taste of what that might mean came last week at a komiti Maori meeting when chairman Lyn Bublitz suggested the wards proposal sit on the table for six weeks while Maori carried out further consultation.

The idea bombed with komiti members Peter Moeahu and Grant Knuckey, who expressed their anger and offence at the proposal.

Mr Bublitz said the idea was meant to provoke debate and ensure the komiti was in total support of the two wards, and was not meant to offend.

"I wanted a vigorous debate and I wanted to be sure I can successfully present the view of this komiti at the council table," he said.

Should the council give the thumbs-up to the wards on Tuesday, it will be forced to undertake a representation review, which will change the areas councillors represent.

This will result in the wards being redrawn, with two councillors from Inglewood and Okato, two from Waitara and 10 from New Plymouth.

However, that could itself be prevented if 5 per cent of voters, or about 2600 of them, demand the issue go to a poll, in which case whether the wards get the go-ahead or not will rest with voters.

Taranaki Daily News