Councillor supports plan for iwi voting rights

TARYN UTIGER
Last updated 05:00 11/04/2014
Howie Tamati stand
Howie Tamati
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Councillor Howie Tamati has hit back at critics who spoke out against iwi members having voting rights on council committees.

Their opinions had created an immediate confrontation about a proposal that was meant to have positive impacts on the community, he said.

"I can't see any harm in the idea. I applaud the mayor for having the heart and the mind to try and engage with Maori more effectively," he said.

Yesterday the Taranaki Daily News revealed the New Plymouth District Council was proposing to appoint six iwi members onto influential council committees and give them full voting rights.

Councillors Murray Chong and John McLeod slammed the idea, and said it was undemocratic for people who were not elected by the community to be able to vote on community issues.

However, Tamati, who is also the president of New Zealand Rugby League dismissed their claims and said they had missed the bigger picture.

Adding iwi members to the policy, monitoring and regulatory committees had the potential to create meaningful engagement and inclusion around the council table, he said.

"I am disappointed in the position two councillors have taken. It has polarised people before it's even got to the council table," he said.

The new appointments would also bring added knowledge and understanding to the committees.

Many people from iwi would not be elected to council, he said, because they were not well-known outside of their Maori communities.

"I got on council because of my profile, because people in the community know me, and that's an advantage, but for most Maori there's not enough people who vote who know them," he said.

Tamati, who is in his fifth term on the NPDC said he had noted over his time in the role that the council did not engage with Maori effectively.

Komiti Maori appeared to be more of a "compliance thing" rather than actually allowing Maori to have a proper role, he said.

"Komiti Maori was meant to be a way of engaging and looking at things from a Maori perspective, but it never worked out that way. This is an opportunity for far more meaningful engagement around the table for Maori," he said.

The extra two votes on the committees of around 11 may not significantly change outcomes on issues, but would mean a lot to Maori, he said.

"Either way people must not forget that full council will meet to make the final decision on most things."

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Other councils in New Zealand already have non-elected Maori on standing committees with voting rights.

Hawke's Bay Regional Council has seven Maori with voting rights across four committees, Marlborough District Council has four Maori representatives across four committees, Waipa has two across two committees and Wairoa and Napier each have one.

Local Government New Zealand's principal policy adviser Mike Reid has said iwi appointments to standing committees were now common practice, and the Human Rights Commission also backed the idea.

In 2010 the commission released a report that said unless positive steps were taken Maori representation would "continue to languish well below the proportion of Maori in the population".

The final vote on the issue will be on Tuesday at the council chambers from 4.30pm. Tamati said the debate and the outcome would test how far people in Taranaki had come over the last few decades.

- Taranaki Daily News

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