Disappointing to see the Waimate and Timaru District Councils have refused to consider creating Maori wards. Race relation conciliator Joris De Bres wrote to all regional/city/territorial authorities urging them to consider establishing Maori wards. De Bres also requested information on the number of Maori on each Council. Some Councils considered the idea, for example New Plymouth (they decided against the idea), others are considering the idea, like the Gisborne District Council, while some refuse to even consider it (Timaru, Waimate and a host of others no doubt). As well as refusing to consider the idea of Maori wards the Timaru and Waimate Councils also refused to confirm whether they had any sitting Maori councillors.
Consider this from the Timaru Herald:
The Timaru council's acting chief executive, Peter Nixon, has no idea of the ethnicity of the district's mayor and 10 councillors. He said they were not required to tell him of their ethnicity, and he had replied along those lines to Mr de Bres.
There is little to no information around Maori representation at local government level. Any efforts to gain a better picture should be supported. Pity that this Peter Nixon doesn’t realise the value in knowing who and how many Maori councillors there are.
He did not intend putting the matter of Maori wards before the council as previous councils had decided against such a move because only about 6 per cent of the district's population considered themselves Maori.
Just because a previous council dismissed the idea does not mean the present council, or a future council for that matter, will reach the same decision. Previous councils don’t bind future councils nor create any sort of persuasive precedent.
I despise, with a passion too, the notion that minorities are somehow disqualified from representation. The idea that there is some sort of magic threshold that grants the right to representation. Clearly this Peter Nixon thinks 6 per cent does not meet the magic threshold. This is the tyranny of the majority. This Peter Nixon thinks, no thanks, we’ll keep our monopoly on power. A sad stance, but hardly unexpected.
If one of the council's 10 existing seats was to be declared a Maori ward, then Maori would be over-represented, Mr Nixon said.
This Peter Nixon is incredibly superficial. Maori wards are about giving effect to the Treaty principle of partnership and ensuring Maori interests as tangata whenua, and by extension as kaitiaki etc, is recognised at a meaningful level. Maori wards, i.e. having Maori councillors, ensues Maori issues are handled appropriately and Maori views understood correctly.
Maori exclusion from local government is the chief cause of voter apathy. Maori are not going to participate in a system that is seen not to serve them and, indeed, does not serve them. Hopefully we will see more councils consider the idea of Maori wards and, fingers crossed, we will see some actually implement the idea.
For a valuable discussion on Maori and local government see this post from earlier in the year.