A controversial bill which introduces specialist seats to the Rotorua District Council, with a focus on increasing Māori representation, is likely to face changes after the attorney-general said it presented an unjustified disadvantage to non-Māori.
Tāmati Coffey, the Labour MP who sponsored Rotorua District Council’s bill, says the council is considering the attorney-general’s concerns and was speaking to the Ministry of Justice about potential fixes.
The bill would see Rotorua District Council comprising 10 councillors and the mayor. Of the 10 councillors, three would be elected by voters on the Māori roll and another three would be elected by voters from the general roll.
The other four, and the mayor, would be elected by the voters at large.
The concern is that of Rotorua’s residents, the general roll has more than double the number of voters than the Māori roll – at 55,600 to 21,700 voters.
Labour Party ministers have distanced themselves from the bill, since Attorney-General David Parker released his Bill of Rights Act report on Friday.
The report says the bill would move the Rotorua council away from “proportional representation” and diverged from normal representative democratic practice. It says the Māori wards would have “disproportionately higher” representation at council.
Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson. Photo: File/SunLive.
Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson told Q&A the council’s plan is well-intentioned, but has issues that needs to be addressed.
“You’ve got maybe an over-enthusiastic council down there. Were there a few mistakes? Well obviously, and the attorney-general said that, we’ll cross that off, and we’ll look to reshape things,” he says.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson told RNZ he would not support the bill in its current form, due to its “significant issues”.
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta declined to comment on Tuesday, with a spokesperson saying it was not a Government bill. The Rotorua council itself proposed the bill, which Coffey brought to Parliament as a local bill.
The Labour, Green and Māori parties supported the bill at its first reading.
National Party justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says Labour MPs were “very enthusiastic” about the bill during its first reading, despite concerns over its impact on local democracy.
National Party justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says the proposed bill is undemocratic.Photo: ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff.
“It was blindingly obvious that it moves away from the principle of equal suffrage,” he says.
“You don’t make significant changes to the nature of our democracy and the nature of our constitution, just randomly through a local bill. This is not a trivial principle, an idea that everyone’s vote carries the same weight.”
Goldsmith says he's not opposed to Māori seats or other specific wards.
Coffey, who also chairs the Māori Affairs select committee hearing submissions about the bill, says the council has accepted there are “information gaps” that concerns the Ministry of Justice and attorney-general.
He says concerns about democratic impacts are being considered, but adds that it's typical to see such intense backlash about issues impacting Māori.
“There is a real backlash that comes for any bills we consider by the very nature that they are related to te ao Māori. We definitely hear a lot of the ‘alternative commentary’.
He says the select committee aims to report back in October.
He says the council hopes the bill would pass in time for this year’s elections, but that's unlikely.