11 February 2021
Maori Affairs Committee
Thank you for providing the opportunity to make a submission on the Local Electoral (Maori Wards and Maori Constituencies) Amendment Bill.
This submission is on behalf of Democracy Northland.
Democracy Northland opposes the Bill and asks the Select Committee to recommend that the Bill be withdrawn
Our concerns are as follows.
On behalf of the people of Northland, Democracy Northland petitioned the Northland Regional Council, the Whangarei District Council and the Kaipara District Council regarding the introduction of separate Maori wards/constituencies.
To date, some 14,000 signatures have been collected over the three councils, well in excess of the number required to trigger a binding referendum; 135% of the threshold for NRC, and 163% for WDC and KDC. More signatures are being received daily. The petitions have been presented to the councils.
Democracy Northland was formed with the specific purpose of ensuring that major decisions about local democracy involve full participation of the local population from the outset. We are sure the Government recognises this worthy purpose as it is the very same wording that appears in Labour’s 2020 election manifesto. That manifesto also states, “Labour will uphold local decision making in the democratic institutions of local government.”
We ask it to honour that election promise by halting the passage of this Bill into law.
We oppose this Bill in the very strongest of terms, as it removes a fundamental democratic right. Ironically, it was a right given in 2002 by the then Labour Government and endorsed at the time by the then MP Mahuta, who now intends to remove it.
The petition right granted to communities to challenge the creation of Maori wards/constituencies is granted under section 19ZB of the Local Electoral Act. As Minister Mahuta will know, the reason for introducing S19ZB had nothing to do with race and is not racist as the Minister and others have claimed, and some in the media have perpetuated.
The Local Electoral Act 2001 provides two cases where electors may requisition a binding poll if more than 5% of electors petition a council to do so. Section 29 allows petition rights where a council changes the way representatives are elected using the FPP or STV voting systems. And section 19ZB provides petition rights when councils create Maori wards and introduce the Maori electoral roll.
Both S29 and S19ZB are designed to provide the community at large with an opportunity to challenge changes to the voting system. It is an essential safeguard to protect the public against politicians gerrymandering the electoral system to suit themselves.
The Minister is mistaken in her representations about the bill and therefore it is being introduced under a false premise. The bill should be withdrawn for this reason.
The Minister must be well aware that the proportion of Maori elected to local authorities has been rising and is now 13.5 per cent, which is consistent with the 2018 census showing Maori as 13.7 per cent of the adult population. There is NO under-representation as she claims.
The Minister has also claimed repeatedly that 5% of voters can overturn the council’s decision. The Minister is again mistaken. It is only the majority of voters who can overturn the decision in a referendum.
Minister Mahuta says, when referring to the nine councils who may be required to hold a poll, there is a need for urgency to “remove the onerous costs on councils to have to hold a poll”. We remind the Minister that Democracy Northland requested the three councils in Northland follow the lead of the Far North District Council and hold the poll at the time of the 2022 local body elections, at negligible cost to ratepayers. They refused to do so.
Our motivation for seeking a poll was based on the principle that electors should be consulted when politicians propose to change the very voting system by which they are elected. That is what New Zealanders were asked to do when MMP was introduced, and would be asked to do if it were proposed to change the Parliamentary term or change the MMP threshold. Yet, this is not the standard Parliament is applying when changing the way local councillors are elected.
Our view has always been that should a community want Maori wards then so be it. As the Minister has pointed out, most communities do not want Maori wards. The implication, and stated overtly by some, is that the majority are racist. We know from the thousands of people we have spoken to while collecting the 14,000 signatures is that the accusation of racism is absolutely and utterly untrue.
The population are against Maori seats on local councils for the very same reasons they oppose Maori seats in Parliament: New Zealanders want to be a team of five million, united by the things we have in common not divided by our differences. The fact that Maori are proportionately represented in local government and over-represented in Parliament proves that very fact. New Zealanders as a collective are not racist and are very happy to elect anyone of any ethnicity on their merits. That has proved to be a very valuable check and balance against radical elements gaining a dominant position within the elected council and gaining unfettered access to public resources for the benefit of their own vested interests.
There are actually many other ways for Maori engagement on local council matters, and in our opinion better ways to promote inclusion without dividing the community on racial lines. Those issues would have been discussed in Northland had the poll proceeded. Now that voice has been silenced and the community will have no opportunity to engage in a reasoned debate, free of baseless accusations and insults. Many Maori we spoke to are opposed to Maori wards for the very reason that they believe those who will occupy those seats will not be speaking on behalf of all Maori.
Regrettably, we believe the consequence of the Bill passing into law will be a hardening of racial differences. It will do the very opposite of what is now being promised.
We urge the Committee to withdraw the Bill.
John Bain, Robin Grieve, Craig Jepson and Ash Nayyar.
for Democracy Northland