The Western Bay council is to vote this week on whether it will introduce Maori ward seats to the district.
The decision on whether to establish Maori wards for the 2019 local government elections will be made on Tuesday November 21 at council beginning 12.30pm.
Community relationships manager for the Western Bay of Plenty District council Frank Begley says the council is expecting a strong presence from iwi and others for the decision.
The Western Bay vote comes the week after the Whakatane District Council voted six to five in favour of supporting the introduction of one or more Maori wards.
The Bay of Plenty Regional council has three Maori constituencies since 2001, the result of a request by Maori for direct representation. It took a law change and strong public support.
Tauranga City Councillors last knocked back a Maori request for council representation in November 2014, after being requested to do so by the city council's Tangata Whenua Committee. The next request will be made in 2020.
At the time Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby said current good relations were a reason why there shouldn't be a Maori seat, and he believed it would damage the current relationship and represent a “big step backwards”.
Councils are required under the Local Government Act to establish and maintain processes providing opportunities for Maori to contribute to the council's decision making processes.
2014 was also the year then New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd tried to introduce a Maori ward seat in New Plymouth. It created a community backlash and Andrew retired from politics in 2016.
Andrew's call for a Maori ward was supported by then Bay of Plenty Regional Councillor Doug Owens who claims opposition to them is ‘political prejudice'.
In an open letter published at the time he says Maori wards had become an issue of political prejudice as parties vie for the ‘prejudice vote against Maori' and their declared and accepted right to self-determination, as a culture and an indigenous people.
“The essential advantage of direct representation via a ward system is the pragmatic solution to a profound political problem, that being an indifferent electorate having no interest in Maori and no guaranteed election of Maori and therefore continued poor communication and misunderstanding,” says Doug.
On the BOP Regional Council the three Maori wards have given way to greater tolerance and understanding of Maori issues and these relationships have grown and deepened as a result of Maori representation at the top table, says Doug.
The lack of Maori or other city ethnicities on Tauranga City council is blamed on the ward system imposed by the Local Government Commission.
On the current 11 member council, ward councillors outnumber those voted in at large, 6:5. Six ward councillors, four at-large councillors and one mayor. It means each ratepayer can vote for only the four at large seats and the two seats in each ward. There are four council seats that each voter cannot cast a vote for.
“At large council seats represent a golden opportunity for Maori and other minority groups to put up suitable candidates for election with a good chance of success,” says Mount Maunganui resident Rob Paterson. The former lawyer was speaking on his appeal against the ward system in April 2016.
“Good candidates would stand a very good chance of being elected if all the seats were at large,” says Rob. “This would also address the calls for race based representation or race based electoral seats on councils.”
After this week's vote Whakatane District Mayor Tony Bonne says the result is testament to the importance of fostering strong and meaningful relationships with Maori across the district and ensuring Te Ao Maori is recognised and supported at the council table.
“I have had the opportunity and privilege in my role as mayor to engage with Maori on a number of partnerships, and I see this as a continuation of the work we have been doing to foster growth and positive relationships within our rohe so we can move forward together.”