A woman walks into her local council office and asks if she can veto the Māori ward. That’s not the start of a joke – it’s weirdly something that can actually happen. Comedian Janaye Henry imagines how that conversation might go.
Why are so many people opposed to the idea of Māori council wards? And why is it so easy to veto them?
Under the Local Electoral Act 2001, New Zealand councils can choose to include a Māori ward. Like Māori electorate seats in the general election, anyone enrolled on the Māori electoral roll can opt to vote in their local Māori ward. Māori wards and electorates exist to ensure representation in government, in accordance with the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
But there’s also a bit in the act that says anyone is allowed to try to veto the inclusion of a Māori ward, regardless of what roll they’re on. If 5% of the local voting population sign a petition against the establishment of a Māori ward, the council is required to put it to a binding referendum. Since the law came into force in 2002, only two councils have successfully introduced Māori wards, bringing the total of councils with Māori seats to three – at least nine others have been vetoed.
Minister for local government Nanaia Mahuta has promised to remove this part of the law, but the new Labour government needs to do it soon – several councils are set to introduce Māori wards at the next local elections in 2022. Until then, conversations like this could be happening in council offices up and down the country.