Kāpiti Coast District Council responds to Māori wards announcement

5 Apr 2024, 4:06 PM

Council is considering the implications of local government minister Simeon Brown’s announcement around a proposed Bill to restore binding polls on Māori ward decisions for Kāpiti Coast District Council’s current representation review.

Yesterday the minister announced that the proposed Bill would reinstate a requirement for councils to hold polls at the 2025 local government elections for any Māori wards established without a poll rather than councils being able to make this decision without this requirement.

The announcement further noted that the proposed Bill will allow for councils to reverse their recent decisions to establish Māori wards in order to avoid polls at the next election.  

In November 2023, Kāpiti Coast District Council voted to establish a Māori ward. Due to an amendment in 2021 to the Local Electoral Act 2001, Council was able to make this decision without requiring a poll.

The decision to establish a Māori ward means, under current legislation, a representation review must take place this year for the new Māori ward to be in place for the 2025 local government elections.

Kāpiti Coast Mayor Janet Holborow says submissions have just closed for Council’s preliminary representation review engagement, with an analysis of the results to come in a few weeks.

“Current legislation requires Council to decide on its initial proposal by 31 July,” says Mayor Holborow.

“With that in mind, we are in the process of understanding what that means for our representation review currently underway.

“We’re disappointed in the new government’s position, as we don't believe a poll gives Māori voters an opportunity to decide on their own representation.

“It’s about ensuring communities of interest have an opportunity to vote for who will represent them best remembering that all councillors swear to execute and perform their duties in the best interest of the entire Kāpiti Coast District.  

“I agree with the position of Local Government NZ who say reversing councils' ability to decide on Māori wards is an overreach by central government, and unfairly singles out Māori voters.

“For all other arrangements representing specific communities of interest, such as rural communities, Council is not required to poll its community before deciding on whether to establish such a specific general ward.

“We wrote to the Minister late last year to ask for guidance when the coalition government indicated their intent to bring back binding polls. Yesterday’s announcement is the first advice we've received.

“The introduction of Māori wards have meant councils had good Māori representation and not the over-representation often touted. Our neighbouring councils in Horowhenua, Porirua, and Wellington have all benefited from having a Māori ward.

Mayor Holborow says another factor is the transferred cost to local government.

“At the last election 35 councils had Māori wards and since then many other councils have moved in that direction.

“The cost of referendums to try and unpick local democracy will come at a cost and at a serious cost to the positive relationships developed with iwi partners throughout the country.

“The proposed Bill has not yet commenced passing through the House and a few more steps are required for Council to be certain what the amended legislation will allow and require of local government.

“We will need to take some time to carefully consider our options.  

“We'll also be talking to iwi partners who have been on this journey with us.

“Further guidance from central government is expected in the coming weeks. We will release more information when more details are known.