Crs John Watson and Greg Sayers would like the issue of creating a Maori ward for Auckland Council put before the public but the Mayor rejected the idea.
Mayor Phil Goff proposed the introduction of an elected Maori representative on the grounds that it helped meet Treaty of Waitangi obligations. Nine councillors and Mr Goff voted in favour of the Maori Ward in September, while five voted against and six (including Cr Wayne Walker) were not present and therefore ineligible to vote.
Cr Watson voted for the establishment of a Maori ward because, he says, it would be more democratic to elect a Maori representative onto Council in this way. He says this would be preferable to the current situation, where Maori issues are supported by the Independent Maori Statutory Board, whose members are not elected. The board was established in 2010 and has nine members who sit on Council committees and have voting rights.
Rodney Cr Greg Sayers voted against the Maori ward proposal. He says the matter is constitutional and should be put to the people to decide and Cr Watson agrees.
“As long as the current situation with the Independent Maori Statutory Board is explained to voters, I’d be in favour of a referendum,” he says.
Cr Sayers put forward the idea of the referendum, but the Mayor’s amendment was voted in, so it didn’t proceed.
Mr Goff said a referendum could cause division. “We need to avoid that grievance festering and getting worse,” he said.
Another issue facing the establishment of a Maori ward is whether it would mean creating a new ward. Cr Watson and Cr Sayers want government to change the law to accommodate the Maori ward as an extra seat rather than replace an existing seat.
Cr Sayers was disappointed with the lack of detail around the vote, with no mention of whether a councillor would lose their role or if a seat would be added to the governing body.
“I doubt that parliament will support a change to the current law,” Cr Sayers says.
If the Maori ward does get established then those enrolled in a Maori electorate will be able to elect the member to council. Cr Sayers says this means they will lose their usual vote for a councillor.
Ngati Manuhiri spokesperson Mook Hohneck says he supports the Maori ward.
“It’s another positive for Maori in helping to get our perspective across, but I would like the seat as additional to the existing ones,” he says.
He is in discussion with Maori about whether removing their usual councillor vote in exchange for a Maori ward vote is appropriate.