Bill to change 'racist' electoral law drawn from ballot

Former New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd  is hopeful the bill will pass but has vowed he won't give up if voted down.

Former New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd is hopeful the bill will pass but has vowed he won't give up if voted down.

A divisive law brought to attention by the attempted creation of a Maori ward in New Plymouth may soon undergo change.

Currently, establishing Maori wards in local government can be put to a referendum while general wards are decided on by council alone, effectively limiting Maori representation.

But on Thursday a Green Party members bill calling for a change to the Local Electoral Act was pulled from the member's ballot which means MPs could now vote to change the law.

Hugh Johnson started a petition to force a referendum to be held on the Maori ward issue.
Robert Charles/Fairfax NZ

Hugh Johnson started a petition to force a referendum to be held on the Maori ward issue.

The Act was put under the spotlight about three years ago when then New Plymouth District Mayor Andrew Judd unsuccessfully tried to create a Maori ward in the district.

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Following a narrow council vote in support of the seat, a citizens' initiated referendum saw 83 per cent of 25,338 returned votes against the proposal.

Judd labelled the law "a breach of indigenous rights" and a way for the Crown to control Maori. He went on to put before Parliament a petition calling for a change.

In March, Green Party MP Marama Davidson proposed the Local Electoral (Equitable Process for Establishing Maori Wards and Maori Constituencies) Amendment Bill, which was drawn from the ballot last week.

If passed, the bill would ensure the establishment of both wards followed the same legal process.

It would also require councils to consider, at least once every six years, whether to establish Maori wards and Maori constituencies.

The bill was inspired by Judd, who after being publicly shunned for supporting Maori wards did not stand for a second term as mayor, Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei said in a recent statement.

"We're really proud to be working with Andrew on this, and that he endorsed the bill when Marama entered it into the ballot," she said.

Judd said it was "exciting" the bill had been drawn and that the issue still had traction.

But said it should have never needed to be put in the ballot in the first place.

It was broken legislation and it should be one law for all, he said.

New Plymouth resident Hugh Johnson, who collected 4248 signatures in the petition which led to a forced referendum, said the proposed amendment to the bill was "a backwards step." 

Caught off guard when approached by Stuff, he was was unaware the bill had been drawn and did not wish to elaborate.

Judd wasn't sure how the bill would fare with MPs but given it was an election year he expected it would incite heated debate.

"Let's hope and pray all parties get on board with it," he said.

When asked how far through the process he believed the bill would make it Judd simply asked: "if the shoe was on the other foot, how long would it take?"

But if the bill was voted down, it wasn't the end of the road for Judd.

Submissions to his petition, which also challenged the process of the creation of a Maori ward and was last year supported by the Maori Party, close in December.

"Failing that, working with the United Nations, Human Rights Commission and Indigenous Rights...which New Zealand has signed up to and we are in breach of our own agreeance internationally as to what's appropriate for our indigenous people.

"And if that's the case then that's more telling of what we are, not Maoridom."



 - Stuff


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