Council’s law change bid passes first reading

Rotorua. Photo / Felix Desmarais / LDR.

A bill aimed at changing electoral rules for the Rotorua district has passed its first reading in Parliament.

Rotorua MP Todd McClay voted against the bill, but Waiariki MP Rawiri Waititi voted for it.

The bill has been referred to the Māori Affairs select committee and will be open for public submissions until April 20.

The bill also had the backing of the entire Labour caucus, and in Parliament last night the bill’s sponsor, Rotorua-based Labour list MP Tāmati Coffey said the bill would ensure Māori were at the decision-making table in Rotorua and was a “tweak” to democracy to enable tino rangatiratanga.

“Democracy ... is Greek. The parliamentary process that we partake in right here ... is actually English. This is from a Westminster system. There is nothing to preclude us being able to tweak democracy to make it work for us here in Aotearoa.”

The bill, the Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill was drafted by Rotorua Lakes Council following a vote in November to pursue it to enable a governance model that is unlawful under the Local Electoral Act.

The council wants to implement a Māori ward and general ward with three seats apiece, and four at large seats, but as the Act limits the number of Māori ward seats due to a population ratio-based formula, it is not possible.

The bill, if passed, would enable the council to bypass the rule for the Rotorua district only.

Waititi said the bill aligned with the Rotorua Township (Fenton) Agreement and “moves towards a more Tiriti-centric approach”.

He said the agreement promised one seat for mana whenua out of three on the council table but it had not been honoured.

"There will be people in this House that will be against the wants of the Te Arawa iwi and the people in Rotorua because of their racist rhetoric and scaremongering propaganda of co-governance.”

He said co-governance was already in place in Rotorua via the Te Arawa Lakes settlement and had been an “outstanding success".

"When we ensure that Māori and Pākehā are both at the table, we create good outcomes for our whole community.”

The bill also had the support of the Green Party, and MP Eugenie Sage said the governance model the bill would enable was “much more equitable” and would allow stronger representation.

The National Party and the ACT Party did not support the bill.

In Parliament, McClay said the issue should be subject to a local referendum “at the very least”.

He said the bill did not “deliver elections that are fair, democratic, or proportional”.

“Rotorua is a unique place but, in as far as the way that we elect our councillors and how that is structured, every part of New Zealand should be the same so that we have a level and equal playing field.”

He said co-governance was a “debate that must be had” and couldn’t be “done quietly”.

“This should be campaigned on. The case should be made widely to the people of Rotorua.

"There are many people in Rotorua that feel that they haven't been listened to, people that feel that they have been left out of this debate.”

Fellow National MP and local government spokesman Simon Watts said the bill had not been through enough consultation and he believed there was a “variation of views around the table at council of actually supporting and opposing this bill”.

Coffey later claimed in Parliament the council vote supporting the pursuit of the local bill was “unanimous”. He claimed it again on social media, as did Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick.

Rotorua Lakes Council does not record votes for and against unless a councillor requests it, which did not happen on the vote on whether to direct officials to pursue the bill.

The motion – 4b in a list of five motions - was recorded as simply “carried”, but in the meeting nine councillors voted for it and two voted against – Reynold Macpherson and Raj Kumar. Neither asked for their votes against to be recorded.

Watts said in Parliament the bill was “unnecessary” and had been an “expensive” undertaking for Rotorua’s ratepayers, with legal costs to date of more than $46,500.

He said three Māori seats could already be achieved through existing legislation.

“I would ask those members of local government in Rotorua to focus back on the key priorities for your city, focus on the elements of social and economic wellbeing that will benefit your communities. Don't get distracted by trying to undertake legislative change such as this, which can be achieved through other mechanisms, and focus on core business.

“I think that would be echoed by the many ratepayers and community members across that area. And if you do want to proceed with such structural change, then do it in a process in which involves everyone.”

ACT’s Simon Court said the bill would do nothing to address Rotorua’s socio-economic problems.

“We believe, in fact, in reforming infrastructure funding and financing so that local councils have the right incentives to do their job.”

In a social media post on Wednesday night, Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said she was proud to hear support on the bill but “sad to hear the opposition’s misinformed approach”.

“We are proud to address the inequities of the Local Electoral Act that cannot deliver what we want to deliver, fair and equitable representation for all voters in Rotorua.

“Thanks to all who supported the first reading.”

The bill must pass into law before June 1 to be in place in time for the October 2022 local election.

HOW THEY VOTED

Ayes 77

Labour 65
Green Party 10
Te Paati Māori 2

Noes 43

National 33
ACT 10

-Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air




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3 Comments

No surprises

Posted on 07-04-2022 17:25 | By Let's get real

Forcing through legislation to entitle one racial identity special privileges. It wasn’t right in South Africa, but it’s perfectly acceptable in a multicultural backward nation years later...? I find that astonishing and disgraceful when we hear the vocal opposition to discriminatory activities in other parts of the world. In a democracy, anyone and everyone should have exactly the same opportunities regardless of race, religion or gender. So New Zealand is being moved away from democracy and towards another form of apartheid governance. Shameful to think that we’re going backwards in terms of race relations rather than forwards and together. I suspect that a few are seeing dollar signs and personal betterment rather than the good of their region.

Crazy

Posted on 07-04-2022 17:19 | By Johnney

We are creating a democracy where minority rules.

Goodbye Democracy

Posted on 07-04-2022 15:16 | By FRANKS

This is racist...........

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