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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Minister of Local Government): In response to the member, Ian McKelvie, because I’ve always found him to be very fair-minded and considered in his contribution to this House, you deserve the courtesy of a response that covers the range of issues that you’ve raised.

Firstly, let me come to the point of the dilemma that councils may be in because they have perhaps gone through the process of holding a poll, clearly the poll delivered a particular outcome, and—if understood the dilemma that you’re presenting to the House—the council may feel that they may be, I guess, at odds with what the poll said if they put the resolution again. That could well be the case, but I want to come back to some of the submitters who presented at select committee, and in particular there was a submitter who participated in the mana whenua group for the Taranaki Regional Council. One of the things that she identified was that as, I guess, a community advocate for greater participation and contribution to the Taranaki Regional Council, when the question came up to them, she commented on the fact that there were a whole lot of people that came across from Hastings to run a campaign against Māori wards and constituencies within her community. She found that quite abhorrent because that was actually not a view reflected from people within her own community. They had to import a whole lot of voices to amplify division.

But, if I come back to the report that the select committee—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: It’s called free speech.

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: I gave the member the courtesy to listen to his contribution. I hope that member will give me the courtesy to respond. If I come back to the departmental advice that the select committee received in relation to this issue of, I guess, anxiety—that’s probably the best way that I can put it—within the community because of this issue, the advice that the committee received said that 1,043 submitters commented that removing the ability to hold binding polls on Māori wards would avoid the community division elicited through these polls. So there is clearly a sense that a poll which is a discriminatory measure, only for Māori wards and constituencies, created the type of division that wasn’t beneficial to the overall interests of the community. Submitters felt that, on the contrary, this would allow for community unity if there was an equal playing field. Some submitters were concerned that the demand for polls were driven by forces from outside the district, as in the case I’ve referred to, in which the poll is to be held.

If I think about, I guess, those entities who have long been a part of this debate and have identified just how challenging this particular issue is, I’d need not look further than Local Government New Zealand, who, the member well knows, has had a long history in this particular issue, and they said the polls have reduced complex issues of voice and representation to a simple binary voice, which, by encouraging people to take sides, damages race relations.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: That’s called democracy.

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: That member says it’s called democracy, yet the sector organisation, who have had purview over this issue for at least 20 years, have said that the polls cause damage to race relations.

The other point I would note—and this is a colleague of mine who, too, can remember the time when the provisions of the Act were changed to provide for Māori wards and constituencies and now participates on the Horizons Regional Council—the Hon Rick Barker, previous member of this House, made a very strong contribution as well: that had he known the discriminatory impact and barrier that that poll has caused to creating Māori wards and constituencies, he certainly would not have voted for it. So I think there’s been a period of reflection over what the original intent was, and then a very lucid identification of the barrier that had in fact been created, a lot of experience within communities for advocating for the kind of change that we have in Schedule 1, and that is why we need to make the changes that I’m recommending in the schedule—the transitioning provision—so that many councils who want to get on with making the decision to create Māori wards and constituencies can do so by 2022 elections.

Coming back to the member’s point, because Rangitīkei, I think, is as fair-minded as many other communities around the place. I’m sure that they would not tolerate importing voices from outside their community to overturn legitimate interest from within the community, and that has been the experience of many communities in relation to this issue.