A fiery start to New Plymouth’s Māori ward debate

It brought down a mayor in 2014 and New Plymouth’s latest fling with Māori representation on council is looking to be just as fiery.

New Plymouth District Council’s Te Huinga Taumatua iwi committee met on Tuesday to discuss the six-yearly Māori ward issue and whether one should be established in the district.

But when debate turned to giving all people the chance to comment on Māori wards, it was cut short by poet and activist Sonya Taylor, who shouted down from the gallery “racists do not deserve a fair say”.

Members of Te Huinga Taumatua committee discuss and vote on the Maori ward debate in the NPDC chambers.

Andy Jackson/Stuff

Members of Te Huinga Taumatua committee discuss and vote on the Maori ward debate in the NPDC chambers.

Requests from the committee co-chair to Taylor to stop due to meeting rules were ignored, and the session was adjourned as Taylor left the chamber to applause.

* Māori ward consultation recommended at committee meeting
* NPDC to consult community on Māori wards
* No first meeting for Te Huinga Taumatua

“Racism getting a fair say is why the oppression of Māori folks has been what it has been up to this point,” she said before leaving the chamber.

The decision on the Māori ward issue must first go through the council’s Te Huinga Taumatua for recommendation, before the full council gets final sign off. It must then go out for community consultation.

A Maori ward is a seat at council dedicated to a member for Māori representation.

Up for recommendation on Tuesday was consultation on four options for establising a Māori ward.

Taylor’s impassioned outburst at the committee meeting was not a lone voice in a packed council chamber, with all councillors in attendance ahead of the extraordinary meeting immediately afterwards to sign off on the annual plan.

Te Rūnanga o Ngati Mutunga representative Colleen Tuuta took the elected members to task and challenged them to make the right decision.

“We need to grow up NPDC, put your big bloomers on.

“There is no way we’re raising any more mokopuna to sit here and fight racism.

“We have had enough.”

She said Ngati Mutunga did not support the Māori wards proposal in its current form, but council needed a true Treaty-based partnership.

Six years ago the debate over Māori wards in the New Plymouth district was just as fierce.

In 2014 the council opted to create a Māori ward, but the move was overturned in 2015 when a citizen-initiated referendum voted against it by 21,000 votes to 4285.

Only Māori ward decisions can be legally overturned by citizen-initiated referendums, a peculiarity that has been described in the past as structural racism.

Former New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd was widely pilloried for his support of the ward and his “recovering racist” epiphany in 2014, citing the issue when explaining why he did not stand for re-election in 2016.

On Tuesday he addressed the committee before the debate and received both applause and a waiata from the gallery when he called for the ward to be established.

Judd questioned why there was even debate on the establishment of a seat for a Treaty partner.

The system itself was designed for Pakeha, he said.

“We’ve empowered ourselves as Pakeha to manage everything. When are we going to put a full stop to colonisation?

“What are you scared of? Not getting voted back? The grief Judd went through?”

Committee chairperson Howie Tamati.

Andy Jackson/Taranaki-Daily-News

Committee chairperson Howie Tamati.

Te Huinga Taumatua co-chair Howie Tamati made a statement on behalf of the committee and said they supported community consultation and establishing a Māori ward.

Co-chair Gordon Brown said he was sure the council would support a Māori ward, but he was equally sure there were enough “rednecks” to push through another petition.

“We can make that decision, but be aware, until that legislation is changed, we will not win ultimately.”

Councillor Dinnie Moeahu said the 2014-2015 had argument divided the community.

Andy Jackson/Taranaki-Daily-News

Councillor Dinnie Moeahu said the 2014-2015 had argument divided the community.

Councillor Dinnie Moeahu said the 2014-2015 argument divided the community and gave the district a taste of what Māori had had to tolerate for 200 years.

Councillor Amanda Clinton-Gohdes became emotional when speaking of attending Parihaka and her fear due to not understanding marae protocols.

“What I’ve learned over the last three years is there is nothing to be afraid of. Māori have always been willing to come to the table.”

The committee recommended to council it remove an option of not establishing a Māori ward for 2022 from the list of four options, but that is not likely to be accepted as it is required for fair consultation.

The other options include holding binding polls and establishing a Māori ward for the next two elections.

They also requested council “strongly lobby” the Government to this year remove the provision of a binding poll on the question of a Māori ward.

Representation reviews, which look into the total number of councillors and how they are elected, are carried out every six years.

At the extraordinary meeting that followed, councillors signed off on the annual plan and a $22 million debt equity swap for the financially-stricken New Plymouth Airport.

This gives the council more equity in the airport company, which will later be paid back in dividends.

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