Electors in the Western Bay of Plenty look set to have their say on whether Maori wards should be introduced on the district council, as petitioners exceed the minimum number of required signatures to force a district-wide vote.
Te Puke councillor Mike Lally has been one of a small group of volunteers petitioning members of the public to call for a vote, after councillors voted 9-3 in favour of establishing Maori wards at a meeting on November 21, 2017.
He says he and his fellow petitioners are pleased with the progress they're making.
“We need 1708, but we're targeting 3000. There are a lot of sheets out at the moment we haven't got back yet, but we have until February 21 to hand in the petition.
“We'll be at the Te Puke A&P show on February 10, and I'm doing presentations at a couple of rest homes too.”
Katikati resident Christina Humphreys is one of the volunteers working to get signatures in her part of the district.
She says it was slow-going to start with, as people were apprehensive about what they were signing.
“The council hadn't really told anyone about the vote, so people didn't know what was going on. It was up to us to let them know. We've been door-knocking and doing mail drops, and going into the retirement villages here.”
She says they've gathered around 800-900 signatures from Katikati alone – and they've only been called ‘racist' twice.
“This is about democracy. Maori are quite capable of standing and being elected on their own merits. All Maori wards do is create more divisiveness and separatism, which we hate.”
Mike says the signatures on the petitions will be checked against the electoral roll to make sure all signatories are eligible to vote.
“What's interesting is that a lot of Maori have signed it,” he adds.
“I rang the people who did the poll down in New Plymouth, and they said they found exactly the same down there – many Maori didn't want separate wards. We would never have found this out until we did this petition and sat on the street to find out what people really think.”
He believes some of the councillors who initially voted ‘yes' to Maori wards may have reservations about their decision.
“Now it will be for the people to have a say, whether they want Maori wards or not. Based on what we've seen, it's not looking good for the council.”
A demand for a public poll must be received by February 21, and a poll held by May 21.
If there is no demand for a poll, the council's decision is final.