Nanaia Mahuta: foreign affairs minister, associate minister for housing environment, and trade and export growth, and MP for Hauraki-Waikato. (Photo: RNZ/Dom Thomas)
Nanaia Mahuta: foreign affairs minister, associate minister for housing environment, and trade and export growth, and MP for Hauraki-Waikato. (Photo: RNZ/Dom Thomas)

Covid-19February 3, 2021

The Bulletin: Māori wards gather momentum

Nanaia Mahuta: foreign affairs minister, associate minister for housing environment, and trade and export growth, and MP for Hauraki-Waikato. (Photo: RNZ/Dom Thomas)
Nanaia Mahuta: foreign affairs minister, associate minister for housing environment, and trade and export growth, and MP for Hauraki-Waikato. (Photo: RNZ/Dom Thomas)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Māori wards gather momentum, the managed isolation system is effectively full, and drought on the way again in Hawke’s Bay.

In the day since an announcement from local government minister Nanaia Mahuta, the concept of Māori wards has generated both momentum and opposition. In case you missed it, the minister said the government will change the law to significantly ease the passage of Māori wards on councils – here’s a Stuff story about it. Right now, what tends to happen is that a council will vote to implement a Māori ward, local opponents then start a petition for a referendum on the question, and then the ward gets defeated, binding the council from trying again. The process is explained in this story by Alice Webb-Liddall.

In Wellington, councillor Jill Day immediately filed a motion to implement a Māori ward, reports the NZ Herald. Mayor Andy Foster signed on, along with a group of other councillors – a few others who didn’t sign were still generally supportive of the concept. A Māori ward may have actually got through in Wellington without a referendum, but with the law change it won’t be an issue. Iwi groups are also pushing for wards in Manawatū and Hamilton. At this stage, there will not be one in Christchurch. The law change will also invalidate any petitions currently circulating against Māori wards, most notably in New Plymouth – the home of former mayor Andrew Judd, who effectively lost his career after a revolt against his plans for a Māori ward.

At a national level, the politics of this are interesting. Writing on Politik, Richard Harman describes it as a defeat for Don Brash’s Hobson’s Pledge group, who have been campaigning against them. The reason? Mahuta was able to read the public mood, and see that she’d be able to get this through despite their howls of protest. At the same time, the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Audrey Young made the very fair point that Labour did not go into the recent election with this policy – they just announced it after the vote.

One potential misconception to clear up – the establishment of a Māori ward doesn’t give Māori voters any extra say in elections than any other voter. It remains a one-person, one vote system. Actually, in local elections that’s not quite true. Some people do get more than one vote, it’s just they get them by dint of being property owning ratepayers in multiple districts, rather than because of their ethnicity.

And as for whether it is anti-democratic to stop referendums against Māori wards, I’d point you to this column (from when it was first floated by Mahuta last year) by lawyer Florence Dean. She argued that it was wrong and breached the Treaty to have issues of Māori representation decided by the majority. “Voters do not have equivalent power to demand a poll where a council decides to establish a general ward or constituency. So, there’s a double standard by which only Māori participation and representation is subject to a general community review.”


The managed isolation system is effectively full, and that is causing problems for returnees. Stuff’s George Block reported that since the Pullman was pulled as a facility, vouchers have been cancelled. And Radio NZ’s Katie Todd reports that the system is basically booked out until June, with only a small number of contingency spots available for people with special circumstances. The government has no plans to increase capacity, in part because that increases the risk of Covid being brought into the country.

Meanwhile, in one of those ‘it is what it is’ sort of stories, managed isolation tightness has forced cricketer Colin Munro out of the Pakistan Super League, reports Cricinfo. Because no places were available for months, he had to pass up a spot in the tournament, or else he would have been stranded overseas after it finished. There’s no suggestion that he was having a crack at the MIQ system in the story, and in fact was able to see the silver lining of spending more time with family. But it is one of those examples that really illustrates the difficult decisions being made.


Drought is on the way again for Hawke’s Bay, with streams starting to run dry. Radio NZ’s Tom Kitchen reported on fears in the region at the end of last week, particularly the impact disappearing freshwater is having on the wairua of the area. The finger has been pointed at human activity, with the Karewarewa stream in particular seeing a heavy take from its catchment. But the problem is also just that rain hasn’t fallen, which Thomas Airey from Hawke’s Bay Today reports isn’t being forecasted to fall for weeks to come.


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MPs are starting to arrive at Waitangi, ahead of ceremonies later in the week. The big point of interest so far has been Labour MPs being invited to Te Tii marae for the first time in four years – but it may only be a one off to respect the wishes of a late supporter, reports Radio NZ. Among the MPs is Treaty minister Andrew Little, who is currently trying to repair the fractured relationship with iwi Ngāpuhi, going with an investment fund aiming to grow assets for the iwi.


A two year rāhui has been placed around collecting seafood Waiheke Island, reports Te Ao News. The Ngāti Pāoa rāhui is aimed at allowing fisheries to replenish, after years of declining biodiversity. Iwi board member Herearoha Skipper said it was necessary to protect kaimoana for future generations.


A promised review of the Official Information Act has been kicked to touch, with no clear date on when it will now take place, reports Stuff’s Nikki Macdonald. The problem is that there’s a big portfolio of work to get through in the justice portfolio, and they’re yet to decide the priorities. But open government advocates are disappointed, saying the overhaul needs to happen for the law to work properly.


A bit of feedback on destocking dairy farms to fight climate change. Bruce wrote in to ask: “Why don’t we have a conversation about destocking of pets? Pets, and specifically pet food, have a pretty big carbon footprint. Should a specific carbon tax be built into pet food?” I am nowhere near brave enough to endorse Bruce’s suggestion, but I think you get the point he’s making about making sacrifices.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Image: Tina Tiller

Right now on The Spinoff: MP Ayesha Verrall writes about how judgement and shaming of people with Covid-19 harms us all, and needs to stop. David Townsend writes about the weird experience of getting a letter from Work and Income saying that he’s dead. Dylan Reeve investigates the outrageous cost of school uniforms. Justin Latif meets and profiles the candidates running in an increasingly exciting local by-election in South Auckland. A DOC blogger writes about what first time trampers need to know if they’re heading into the bush. There’s a brand new episode of politics podcast Gone By Lunchtime for the new year. And Jane Yee and Tara Ward are recapping The Bachelorette NZ, and you can’t stop them.


For a feature today, a look at the breakdown of ‘bellwether counties’ in the US, and what it shows about political partisanship in that country. The analysis from FiveThirtyEight looks at the areas that traditionally picked the winners of every presidential election for generations or more. But changing patterns in voter behaviour mean that could now be a thing of the past. Here’s an excerpt:

White voters without a college degree used to vote more like the country as a whole, which helps explain why these counties maintained their bellwether status for a long time. From 1980 to 2012, for instance, these bellwether counties consistently voted within a few points of the national popular vote. They were particularly representative in 2012, when the average 1980-to-2016 bellwether county was just 0.8 points more Democratic than the nation. 

But that changed in 2016 when Trump made huge gains with white voters without a college degree. As such, the margins in bellwether counties became substantially more Republican even as the country only became a little more Republican. 


It would appear that New Zealand are effectively confirmed to be in the final of the World Test Championship, way ahead of schedule. The NZ Herald reports a planned series between Australia and South Africa has been cancelled, leaving Australia unable to overhaul NZ’s tally on the table. That means if the final at Lords goes ahead, the Black Caps will play (most likely) India, or an outside chance of England or Australia. As journalist Andrew Alderson notes in the story, it is now eight years since New Zealand were ranked 8th in the world, and getting rolled for 45.


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Mad Chapman, Editor
The Spinoff has covered the news that matters in 2021, most recently the delta outbreak. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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