Iwi and council launch a new governance partnership and a 'fresh start'
Two years on from a binding referendum that ended the proposal for a Maori ward in New Plymouth, the council have found another way to bring iwi to the decision-making table.
A new governance partnership called Te Huinga Taumatua Committee has been created by the New Plymouth District Council (NPDC) and senior Taranaki iwi leaders.
The new body comprises five iwi leaders and five councillors who will generate items for the council to consider and make recommendations on council issues.
Members are councillors Gordon Brown, Richard Handley, Stacey Hitchcock and Marie Pearce, mayor Neil Holdom and five iwi leaders, Larry Crow, Leanne Horo, Glenn Peri, Liana Poutu and Colleen Tuuta.
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This is not the first time the council has had a committee involving iwi. Past iterations include the komiti maori and the iwi liaison sub-committee.
Brown said the current partnership was not the next best option to a Maori ward but rather an "exciting" initiative to give iwi a "huge" opportunity to have an input.
It was also about leaving "the past in the past," he said.
"Last term is finished and it was hugely unsuccessful in having some effective input from iwi," he said.
"We tried Maori wards, we tried appointed iwi representatives on standing committees and they didn't work so this is a fresh start."
The council's controversial decision to propose a Maori ward was overturned in a landslide vote in 2015 after a district-wide, binding referendum.
But past efforts aside, the reality was there was still a void to fill, Brown said.
Under the local Government Act the council was obliged to have iwi input into decision making at a governance level, he said.
But it was about more than just meeting obligations, Brown said. Having a governing partnership with iwi was hugely important and he said council's decision-making ability was enhanced by iwi input.
Getting an effective voice for local Maori around the table was something council had worked hard in the past year to make happen, he said.
"It was something we wanted."
Poutu, Te Kotahitanga o Te Atiawa chairwoman, was as reluctant as Brown to say the committee was a substitute to a Maori ward but rather described it as a new way for iwi to engage with council decision-making.
"I think what it is is an option going forward and it has not been trialled before so let's see how it goes."
She was hopeful for what the committee might achieve but said "time would tell."
The group, which will work to identify and discuss issues of cultural, economic, environmental and social importance to Maori in the district, will sit every five weeks, with their first meeting scheduled for August 17.
The committee's name has two parts, Te Huinga, which has a dual meaning for a gathering of people and a gathering of leaders, and Taumatua which means a place where birds gather high in the trees.