Kia ora, council: Hamilton leaders vote 12-0 for Māori wards
In the end, it was the lilting grace of a waiata that best captured the mood inside Hamilton’s council chamber.
A move to establish Māori wards in Hamilton has been framed as a watershed moment for the city and the sense of occasion wasn’t lost on those watching as elected members voted in favour of change.
Those who feared Wednesday’s meeting might end with bitter words needn’t have worried as councillors voted unanimously to create Māori wards in time for next year’s council elections.
The result drew applause, song, and a haka from the packed public gallery and was reciprocated by elected members who stood and sang their own waiata – Kirikiriroa.
The historic vote follows a three-week public engagement campaign which indicated overwhelming support for Māori wards in Hamilton.
More than 990 submissions were received by the council, with 81 per cent of submitters backing a call for change.
The vote to establish Māori wards now triggers a wider representation review which will determine the future configuration of the council’s political wing. It’s expected Hamilton will get two Māori wards based on the city’s population.
The new wards must remain in place for at least two terms.
Hamilton mayor Paula Southgate began Wednesday’s meeting by asking speakers to be respectful, and said the decision to consult the wider public on the issue of Māori wards was the right one.
“I think it really is a truly historic day,” Southgate said afterwards.
“What is really stunning about today is this was a unanimous decision by council. So in the journey of talking to the public, [councillors] reached a greater understanding, and we were able to be totally united in our view that Māori have a place at our table.”
Since 2018, Māori interests have been represented on the city council by five Māngai Māori who have full voting rights at the committee level but don’t sit on the full council.
The appointees are chosen by Waikato-Tainui and urban Māori authority Te Rūnanga o Kirikiriroa.
Waikato-Tainui, Te Arataura, chairwoman Linda Te Aho was in the council chamber to witness the vote and described it as a momentous occasion.
“The next step is for Māori to step up and put themselves forward and become involved in local government. We have not seen ourselves reflected, so we have not been turning out at the polls,” Te Aho said.
“For so long we have felt so disconnected, and that is why we have not participated. Now we will.”
Ngira Simmonds, also speaking on behalf of Waikato-Tainui, said the message from the Kīngitanga is Waikato iwi are ready to take a seat at the council table.
“Nobody will be harmed in the adoption of Māori wards. There is nothing to fear here, there is only good for all of us,” Simmonds said.
“We do not seek to take anything away from you, we do not seek to usurp your mana but rather to dwell together with you.”
Hamilton deputy mayor Geoff Taylor, who previously expressed concern with the tight timeframe for consultation with the public, said Māori wards will provide tangata whenua with better representation.
A lingering concern, however, is the creation of separate wards for Māori could send the message that they can’t compete on their own merit.
“With Māori wards in local government, they’re nothing new, they’ve been around for 20 years. Again, have they really advanced the cause? They’ve hardly been revolutionary,” Taylor said.
“I want something more, but then I’m saying that as a Pākehā who hasn’t had to wait like you have.”
Councillor Maxine van Oosten said the community engagement on Māori wards had given the council clear guidance. The vote comes against a backdrop of ongoing social change focused on building tolerance and awareness of each other.
“For those afraid of a backlash, that hasn’t happened,” van Oosten said. “That’s because we’ve awoken to a better understanding of our past.”
About half a dozen members of the public turned up at council to protest against Māori wards. Some made their way into the debating chamber, placards in hand, but few stayed for the final vote.
Submitter Brian Burne attempted to deliver a bellicose speech but was thwarted by his lack of reading glasses. His spiel came to rest on a question.
“We should have an Indian ward, a bloody Chinese ward ... why are the Māoris given a ward when we are all one?”