Waitomo District Council to strengthen Māori and mana whenua participation

17 Oct 2023, 5:42 PM

Waitomo District Council’s elected members will not introduce Māori Wards for the next two Local Government elections, but have instead opted to increase Māori and mana whenua participation in other ways.

After an extensive consultation which asked the public to submit on how Māori should be represented in Council decision-making, WDC’s elected members unanimously voted to work with mana whenua to establish a model of representation that enhances relationships between Council and mana whenua.

Other options considered were maintaining the status quo, establishing Māori Wards, or Māori wards and a committee with Māori representation.

Waitomo District currently has one rural ward and one urban ward with no Māori wards. Three representatives are elected in each ward, and a Mayor is elected at large.

Mayor John Robertson says the decision was not based on a numbers game, but careful consideration, rationale and judgement on what was the best way forward.

“We are keen to see our Council work with mana whenua to achieve much more participation and option three - establishing a committee with Māori representation will achieve that.”

“Māori Wards can place limits on democratic choice and although it gives the perception of increased representation, in our district we can achieve more Māori participation and involvement in other ways.

“As was noted by mana whenua on a number of occasions when we visited Marae, Māori voting turnout is low. Greater participation at the ballot box might result in more Māori elected to council under the current ward system.

“In my view, establishing Māori Wards would not serve the interests of Māori in terms of representative and substantial electoral participation.
John says despite today’s decision, the structure of the committee is yet to be determined.

“Council will further engage with mana whenua through its committee Te Rāngai Whakakaupapa Kōrero to develop a model of representation that enhances relationships between Council and mana whenua.

“It will take time as it will need to accommodate all mana whenua throughout our district and its method of representation needs to include Māori collectives such as hapū, whānau, marae and papakāinga. That is what we were told in the consultation process.

“We give thanks to all those who took the time to make a submission and share their thoughts on this important decision-making process.”

The review of Māori Representation was originally discussed by Council’s Te Rāngai Whakakaupapa Kōrero committee earlier this year, which recommended that public consultation be undertaken on whether to establish Māori wards, but also to consider alternative means of enabling Māori representation as part of the review.

The formal consultation period ran for 10 weeks during July to September. During and prior to this time various meetings were held which included a meeting at Te Kūiti Pā, and a public drop-in session. Officers and councillors also attended several local Whare meetings (previously Regional Marae Committees) to discuss the review and the options available. Through those hui, valuable information and feedback was shared.

Brochures outlining the options for the representation review and the submission process were sent to every house in the district, published Council’s website, left at businesses throughout the district, and notices were also published in the King Country News.

At the close of the submission period at midnight on 17 September, 60 submissions had been received. A further three late submissions were accepted by Council at the Hearing on 4 October 2023.