Creation of Maori ward considered

The Invercargill City Council building on Esk St, Invercargill. Photo: File

INVERCARGILL City councillors are considering the creation of a Maori ward, with one councillor saying the time has come.

Following concerns raised by Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta last year, a Local Electoral (Maori Wards and Maori Constituencies) Amendment Act was passed last month.

The concerns were regarding a lack of Maori representation on councils and the small uptake of Maori wards being created.

Minister Mahuta was concerned when a council took that step, a poll could be demanded after only 5% of the population signed it.

This could overturn the council’s decision.

The topic was discussed by members of the Invercargill City Council Performance, Policy and Partnerships Committee on Tuesday.

A report detailed the update and councillors were told the bill, among other things, removed the ability for the community to demand a poll.

Last year, New Plymouth District Council voted to establish a Maori ward for the 2022 election, but a petition for a referendum immediately followed.

A referendum in 2015 overturned the establishment of a Maori ward in the city when 83% of those who took part voted it down.

Deputy Electoral Officer Michael Morris said the key issue for council was the act had a schedule that set out the transitional phase of the new act and regime, and whether it wanted to establish a new Maori Ward for the 2022 triennial elections.

He said it seemed an opportune time to have the conversation with the community alongside the representation review, as well as with mana whenua.

Mr Morris acknowledged the situation in New Plymouth.

He said he believed the minister’s view on the bill was that the poll provision was overtly racist.

It was explained that, if council chose to create wards, there was no ability for a community poll like there was specifically for Maori wards.

Cr Lesley Soper said the time had come.

“I look forward to the report in May.”

She said in the interest of equity, it was a very good move on council’s part.

Councillors would decide on whether to establish a Maori ward in May, after receiving a report.

Nine councils resolved to establish Maori wards for the 2022 elections.

Petitions had been lodged in two council areas, but under the bill were made invalid.

During the submission period, 12,508 submissions were made with 9533 opposing.