I have supported a process which will see Hamilton City Council revisit the issue of establishing Maaori wards for our city.
Council will discuss this issue again as part of the Long-Term Plan Council meeting on April 15th. At that meeting, Council will consider a new resolution which considers putting Maaori wards in place by the next election, but only after engaging with the wider community.
This is a very complex issue and people understandably feel passionately so I want to take some time to explain how this has come about.
Last week (on April 1) our Council voted on the issue of Maaori wards. The requirement to do so, at this time, was driven by recent changes to government legislation.
I support changes to the law. They have removed the ability of a small group of people to drive unfair, binding polls which have made the creation of Maaori wards extremely difficult. The poll option, which was never applied to general wards, needed to go. I applaud Minister Nanaia Mahuta for driving it through.
The timing of this change created real challenges for our Council because it meant we had had to decide this issue, quickly. The timeframe to get wards in place for the next election, does not allow time for the kind of meaningful communication I would prefer with our wider community.
There were two votes at our Council meeting last week.
The first vote taken asked Councillors to decide, that day, to establish Maaori wards in Hamilton for the next election. It also sought support to retain the existing Maangai Maaori system at Hamilton City Council. Currently there are five Maangai Maaori positions and all have full voting rights on all major Council committees. That first vote lost 8-4.
But a second vote that day, proposed by me, ensured Maaori wards remained on the table, and also committed Council to other actions to improve Maori representation. This vote was supported unanimously by all Councillors. I want to explain what this means going forward and also explain some urgent actions I have taken following last week’s meeting.
As Mayor, I knew the first vote last week was likely to fail...and it did. And personally I was concerned that would see the whole issue of Maaori wards ‘off the table’ until the next term.
Improving Maaori wellbeing means improving the wellbeing of the WHOLE city. What is good for Maaori is good for all of us; that is a fact. But enduring change that delivers positive outcomes should be built on a strong and solid foundation.
The first vote to establish Maaori Wards for the next election failed. But the second vote did not.
The second vote committed Council to strengthening meaningful representation and participation of Maaori across ALL levels of Council. It guaranteed ongoing consideration of Maaori Wards AND it said Council would further strengthen the role of Maangai Maaori.
Further, it said Council must collaborate and engage with iwi and the community throughout, under the guidance of He Pou Manawa Ora, a strategy developed alongside Maaori. That strategy is already well advanced and is back in front of Council next month for adoption,
At the meeting, the second vote was supported by all 12 Councillors present.
Revisiting the decision
I am acutely aware of how deeply hurt our Maaori citizens are by the further time delay in establishing Maaori Wards. As I have said, the timeframe to get wards in place for the next election, simply does not allow for the level of meaningful communication I would have wanted with our wider community.
But I accept that sometimes we have to make compromises to get to the right result and councillors with different votes have come together to do just that.
On that basis over Easter, I reached out to my Councillor colleagues, as some also did to me, to see if they would consider revisting the decision made last week. Today (Tuesday April 6), they have agreed to do that.
Our Council will therefore revisit the issue of establishing Maaori wards in time for the next election, but on the proviso there will be wider community engagement.
He Pou Manawa Ora
Finally, last week at the Council meeting, I spoke again about He Pou Manawa Ora. If you have not already, I urge you to read the strategy. It is something I and others are deeply passionate about. It has been developed with input from local Iwi, hapuu, maataa waka (Urban Maaori), Council's Maangai Maaori, Waikato-Tainui, Te Haa O te Whenua O Kirikiriroa and Te Rūnanga Ō Kirikiriroa.
More than 1,000 people made submissions to He Pou Manawa Ora. Those submissions have already been heard and more than 30 priority actions have been identified. We are well advanced on this work but there is still plenty to do.
As Minister Mahuta has said, Maaori Wards are just one ‘tool in the toolbox’ to improvement Maaori representation. Our task now as a Council, and as a wider community, is to leverage every other tool to improve the wellbeing of Maaori.
I personally support Maaori Wards for a number of reasons but it is important to me to make decisions alongside our community even if not everyone agrees.
We need to do so in a respectful way and acknowledge any differences. That way we start to build understanding and bridge gaps between us. But I am clear hostile comments and threats do not advance us they divide us. So let’s talk.