Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Whakatāne council prepares submission to Māori Wards Bill

Whakatāne District Council has announced it is preparing a submission on the Local Government (Electoral Legislation and Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill, in anticipation that public submissions will be called for on the Bill.

“Councillors fully support making a submission to the (Electoral Legislation and Māori Wards and Constituencies) Amendment Bill and we made a head start on drafting that, based on the direction the coalition Government had signalled and after we sought further information from our Election Services specialist,” said Mayor, Dr Victor Luca.

The Mayor said gathering and understanding all available information was important to fully galvanise Council’s thinking on the Bill.

“We’ve had earlier information from the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) and the direction has become increasingly clear,” he said.

The introduction of the legislations has confirmed that Whakatāne will be one of 32 Councils that will have to either resolve to dis-establish Māori Wards before the 2025 local elections or undertake a binding poll in conjunction with the 2025 election. The outcome of the poll would determine whether WDC would continue to have Māori Ward seats in the 2028 and 2031 triennial elections, said Mayor Luca.

“From the overwhelming expression of support around the table for the benefit that inclusion of Māori Wards has brought to this triennium it’s clear that there is no appetite within my council to dis-establish Māori Wards before the next local council election in 2025 and we’ll put that to a formal Council vote if the Bill is enacted. In fact, dis-establishing prior to the next council elections is likely to be detrimental to the smooth operation of Council.”

“In the conversations our Elected Members have had, there have been many examples shared of the benefits we’ve seen this triennium. Personally, these feel both philosophical and practical. I have appreciated the different thinking presented by Māori Ward Councillors based on their connections and lived experience and I feel it has made a valuable contribution to our decision-making.

“For me, an example of the practical, is our obligations under the Local Government Act to honour our role as Treaty Partners, to ensure that Māori have a voice in matters that affect them. Having Māori Ward seats is a step towards fulfilling these obligations at the local level and promoting treaty-based relationships.

“I can also see that the relationships that have improved with iwi and hapu since Council invested in its Māori Relationship Strategy is allowing us to work together to achieve service delivery for everyone in our communities and our Māori Wards are a big part of that. We are after effective collaborations that represent a win for all members of our communities.”

“In those conversations our Māori Ward Councillors’ desire to see Māori seats maintained is not about them as individuals, rather the need to ensure that iwi and hapu voices continue to be heard in the decision-making process and that younger generations can see a place for themselves in local government.

“Māori Ward seats provide role models and opportunities for aspiring leaders to participate in governance and civic engagement. This can empower Māori youth to become active participants in our democratic process that is so vital in shaping communities,” the Mayor said.

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