Maori wards adopted by Rotorua Lakes Council

Councillor Tania Tapsell. Photos: Ben Fraser / Rotorua Daily Pos

Maori wards will be adopted in Rotorua in time for the next local election.

The decision was made by a full council meeting on Friday afternoon, right on the legislative deadline to introduce them.

The vote, which was not unanimous, was met with a waiata from about 80 gathered in the public gallery.

Te Taru White, centre, as those in the public gallery greeted the vote in favour of Maori wards.

Councillor Tania Tapsell voted against the introduction of Maori wards.

She was not alone in her opposition, however, with councillor Reynold Macpherson expressing his opposition but leaving the council chamber before the vote after what he described as "interruptions" to his speech.

Tapsell says the district had a "long history of electing Maori" and Maori had often been among the highest polling candidates in local elections.

"Being Maori is not a barrier to being elected."

She says while some councils required Maori wards to ensure fair representation, Rotorua did not, and noted that any councillor elected via a Maori ward still had to work for the betterment of all constituents, not just Maori.

Council manahautu Maori Gina Rangi presented councillors with three options - to not adopt Māori wards, to adopt them, or adopt them and begin broader review of governance arrangements.

Ultimately the council voted in favour of the third option, although councillor Raj Kumar said he supported option two.

A representation review, with full public engagement, would also be conducted to determine representation arrangements, as well as a wider review of the council's governance framework.

About 80 people filled the public gallery at the Rotorua Lakes Council chamber.

That review would explore the purpose, membership and powers of the council's committees and community boards and include a discussion with local iwi Te Arawa and the broader community about the possibilities of strengthening co-governance.

The council directed staff to prepare a proposal on the process and scope of the proposed review process.

It follows the passing of the Local Electoral (Maori Wards and Maori Constituencies) Amendment Act, which came into effect on March 2 2021.

Prior to that the law stated that if a council established Maori wards, a local referendum on whether Maori wards had to occur if at least five per cent of the electors demanded one.

The new law closed the door on that, and also established a transition period ending on May 21 in which a council could, regardless of any previous decisions or previous poll outcomes, resolve to establish Maori wards for the 2022 local elections.

After the vote Te Tatau o Te Arawa chairman Te Taru White says the decision "means everything".

"It means the word of our people has been heard.

"We're simply the mangai, the spokesperson, the doorway to our people. The partnership is actually with our people. When they said they wanted wards, that's what we have delivered to them, and I'm very proud of that."

He says he had no problem with some of the opposition to Maori wards expressed by some councillors and respected their opinions.

Speaking to Local Democracy Reporting after the meeting Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick says she would have liked the vote to be unanimous but she'd known it wouldn't be.

"That's democracy.

"For me it is about the next step, about what we take out to our wider community.

"We've still got a step ahead of us there."

She says she's not as concerned about community backlash against the decision as she was when the council introduced the Te Tatau o Te Arawa partnership in 2013.

She says there will be questions about how Maori wards would look, how many there will be and if it will limit those on the Maori roll on who they could vote for, but those questions will be explored and answered through community consultation.

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