Consultation is now open for whether or not Auckland should introduce Māori wards, and the council is keen to hear your thoughts.
The 2022 local elections increased Māori representation within local government, with 32 of 78 councils establishing Māori seats. These councils followed in the footsteps of Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Wairoa, whose councils were the first to introduce indigenous representation in 2001, 2013 and 2019 respectively. The new councils spanned Te Tai Tokerau to Te Waipounamu, but one significant omission was Tāmaki Makaurau. Now, in 2023, Auckland will decide whether or not to introduce Māori seats onto its supercity council.
What are local Māori seats?
They’re regional variants of the countrywide Māori electorates, but they’re called wards. Consistent with indigenous electorates, only Māori electoral roll constituents vote for these special wards that give tāngata whenua direct representation at council tables. If Tāmaki Makaurau introduced these wards for future elections, the city’s Māori roll voters would anoint councillors.
New Māori wards were agreed on as recently as August when Western Bay of Plenty voted 9-3 to establish them. That means its 3,498 Māori roll voters will have direct council representation – whereas Auckland’s 60,401 Māori roll voters don’t. Although Western Bay of Plenty councillors overwhelmingly favoured the initiative, some locals weren’t supportive, and Waihī Beach community board deputy-chairperson Alan Kurtovich resigned in protest.
Kurtovich’s resignation contrasts with the actions of former New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd, who didn’t stand for reelection in 2016 after a local referendum canned his Māori ward proposal. (Referendums can no longer overturn Māori wards after a law change). Judd says politicians and his constituents ostracised him for supporting indigenous seats.
Is there any existing indigenous representation at Auckland Council?
The Independent Māori Statutory Board has specific powers under the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009 to “promote issues of significance to Māori” to council and monitor its Te Tiriti obligations. Most board members represent local iwi but a few advocate for mātāwaka (non-mana whenua). They sit on all council committees with voting power.
Although the IMSB exists, its scope is limited, and its members don’t represent voters. The board also has no input into the decisions of Auckland Council’s most powerful group, the governing body – an exclusive entity comprising only the mayor and councillors. That means no councillor explicitly represents Māori voters at Auckland’s governance table. There are tāngata whenua councillors who advocate for indigenous issues – like Whau ward representative and Māori outcomes lead Kerrin Leoni, and Manukau ward’s Alf Filipaina – but they primarily represent their wards and/or political movements, not tāngata whenua at large.
Although some councillors don’t support the idea, Leoni – the supercity’s first wahine Māori councillor – says Tāmaki Makaurau needs both the IMSB and indigenous seats, to ensure representation for mana whenua and mātāwaka alike.
What are the Māori ward options for Tāmaki Makaurau?
Two models are touted for Auckland’s indigenous seats: the parliamentary and royal commission models. Other models will be considered, but they’ll require extra work. The parliamentary format could establish one or two seats and is the only option that doesn’t need new legislation to be introduced (more on that later). The royal commission proposal – two elected seats and one mana whenua-appointed position – requires legislative change. Just last year, the Canterbury Regional Council appointed Ngāi Tahu representatives to its governing body through a similar model.
Leoni supports the parliamentary model initially and the royal commission model later, because the former can empower Māori sooner, she says. “If council has Māori seats it will better take into account mātauranga Māori,” she says, adding that council would benefit from tāngata whenua leadership on pressing issues like the climate crisis.
How would this change come about?
Council will decide about Māori seats for the 2025 local elections in October. If deliberations stall, 23 November is the deadline for a decision. Thanks to a recent law change, the parliamentary model is the most achievable option to implement in time for 2025 since other options require further legislative reform.
In the past the council opposed introducing the parliamentary model because the law limited its size to 20 councillors. That meant existing general seats would have been removed to introduce this model. But council agreed in principle to support Māori wards once the councillor cap was lifted, which recently happened. Auckland can now have two indigenous seats under the parliamentary format without other wards’ disestablishment.
If the royal commission model is chosen, the necessary law changes may be a time-consuming process. It took nine months to pass the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Act 2022, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Tāmaki Makaurau legislation would progress so swiftly. Auckland Council acknowledges the difficulty in predicting how long legislative reform takes. That unpredictability is compounded by the potential of a change in government, as National and Act have both said they want to repeal Māori wards. If they form the next government, any new Māori wards legislation may not get the green light.
Consultation and next steps
Public consultation for the indigenous seats proposals is open until midnight on Sunday, 24 September. Auckland mayor Wayne Brown, councillor Leoni and their colleagues want to engage with constituents before making their call in October. They’d like to hear if residents support Māori seats, and if so, which model they prefer. “This decision is significant for all Aucklanders – not just Māori. Your feedback will help shape a future that’s right for Tāmaki Makaurau,” says Leoni.
If consultation is in favour, it’s difficult to say how long the wards’ installation would take. If the public selects the parliamentary model, consultation findings will be included in Auckland’s representation review from October 2023 to June 2024. Then comes further public input about the chosen Māori ward arrangement in July and August next year. Finally, the decision – one or two seats – will be made before the 2025 local elections. If another option (like the royal commission model) is selected, legislative change will be pursued from October onwards, followed by public input on the bill. Auckland Council is unsure if any alternatives to the parliamentary model could be ready by the next local elections.
Consultation is crucial to which option – if any – if selected, says Leoni. But council consultations are known to be heavily skewed towards elderly, male and Pākehā perspectives – Leoni admits it is difficult getting Māori to participate. There haven’t been many submissions so far, so Leoni is asking Auckland voters to add their two cents. She says that without indigenous wards, Auckland lags behind other councils with smaller indigenous populations, saying, “if more than half the country has put them in place, Auckland, with the biggest Māori population, should definitely have Māori seats.”
This is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.