Discriminatory laws that place unreasonable hurdles to increased Māori participation in local government need to be urgently reformed, says Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese.

In a Nelson City Council meeting held on Tuesday, 22 September, Council resolved that Mayor Reese would write to Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta and Chief Executive of the Department of Internal Affairs Paul James, with full Council support, urging an amendment to the Local Electoral Act 2001 to ensure the legal requirements to establish a Māori Ward are the same as a general Ward.

The resolution was made alongside a decision to follow advice provided from the Iwi-Council Partnership Group meeting (involving iwi and elected members of Council) held in June this year to not set up a Māori Ward at this time but to instead pursue increased Māori involvement in decision-making through alternative mechanisms.
Under the current rules, sections 19ZA to 19ZG of the Local Electoral Act, any decision to set up a Māori Ward can trigger a public ballot if it is demanded by at least five percent of electors.
“The current system is set up in such a way that it is incredibly hard for Māori to gain representation at Council. We need to fix legislation that has embedded discrimination at a local government level for too long,” says Mayor Reese.
“I do not want to support what is a discriminatory piece of legislation, I have advocated about this for many years and I will continue this advocacy. I hope the next government will change this legislation.”
Nelson City Council’s views on the matter are in line with Local Government New Zealand, who took a stance on the issue in 2018.
“No other ward faces the same challenge. If the North Nelson community petitioned Council for a ward, Council would make a decision and that would be it. The decision can be appealed to the Local Government Commission, but there is no mechanism for a public vote. Yet with Māori wards, we have a situation where Māori effectively have to ask permission for representation, and a public vote that amplifies racist and uninformed viewpoints.”
Nelson City Council is advocating for the removal of sections 19ZA to 19ZG from the Local Electoral Act and for Māori Ward decisions to be made in line with decisions about other types of ward.

While there are currently no plans to call for a Māori Ward for 2022 and 2025, Council still had Māori involvement with decision making at the heart of its plans for the future.
“When we were welcomed on to the Marae for Waitangi Day at the start of this triennium, I made a commitment to increasing Māori participation in decision making. We are making progress on this, but it’s a journey,” says Mayor Reese.

“This way of working is fundamental to our long term plan, and a vital component of Nelson’s future.”