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My WBOP meeting speech in favour of a Maori ward

This is my speech for the Maori ward decision this week. I realise more than a few people struggle with this idea so this explains why I believe it is essential for our district to do this. (Note I did stray occasionally from these prepared notes):


I believe in Maori wards. I supported them in last year’s election and I see no reason today to waver from that view. Thankfully, our current Code of Conduct supports that stance that if you campaign on an issue, you can be expected to follow through accordingly. So why do I, an acknowledged scrooge or tight ass on the council, support Maori wards.


1) Partnership is deeply, and rightly, entrenched into our constitutional arrangements, set by parliament. All the big political parties are committed to the Treaty of Waitangi and it has been included in well over 70 pieces of legislation by governments from a veritable rainbow of party colours. Among those 70+ laws is the Local Government Act, our governing act, where this provision has been in place for a looong time. This is not a radical proposal.


2) Inclusion is an important principle of governorship, and in management theory generally. Having guaranteed Maori members will help us be a better council. This is not a zero sum game where one treaty partner wins at the expense of the other. We can work together to make better decisions, bringing different perspectives. Anyone who has spoke to our local hapu and iwi leaders knows they want to strengthen our whole community.


3) Maori wards work. They are no longer an experiment. Our regional council has had them for 20 years and no one seems to mind. Parliament has had Maori seats for around 150 years and it has carried on making decisions – sometimes good and sometimes bad.


4) Maori wards are empowering. Some suggest the council appoint Maori representatives onto the council, but there is Mana for all of us that comes from being elected by our peers – who can then remove us if they don’t like what we do. A representative appointed by the council and serving at the grace and favour of the council does not look like empowerment to me.


5) Maori wards are democratic. They preserve the very important principle of one person, one vote enshrined in our Bill of Rights. This is really important. Democracy has been developing over the past 2,500 years. It is still not perfect, but it is a better system than any other out there – particularly when it comes to protecting the rights of minorities. Not always very well, mind you, but better than any other system. Have a look at Asia, where in many, many cases democracy has been curbed in favour of groups claiming special rights and privileges. I’ve lived and worked there for around 15 years in various Asian countries, both rich and poor. I can tell you that downward slides in the economy and the erosion of rights often start with one group or other claiming more rights than others. The end result is a screwed-up country for everyone – including those who started out claiming they were more special than others.

This proposal is important because it means our individual votes all count roughly the same – our Maori whanau just have to choose where to vote. Maori wards even have an elegant exit clause built in. If Maori decide they no longer need a Maori ward and switch back to the General roll, they will end this system.


We were not elected to this council to challenge constitutional law or engage in culture wars. We are here to make the best decisions we can for our people – all our people.


But, and it has been a long time coming, but here is the but…

We should consult widely on this and seek to bring our community with us in this decision. It seems ridiculous to me that we consult on the colour of a concrete path and where to build dog parks but are told that we need not talk to all of our communities about this much important matter. It will be difficult. There are some passionate views out there but I think we will be surprised at the change in views in our community since the last debate six years ago. I am certainly no expert on tikanga Maori but I thought one of the cool things on the Marae was that you talk through matters together – exhaustively if necessary – rather than just impose one version of the truth on the other side. So let’s talk this through. We have a good story to share – let's share it.


One more thing. I’d like to thank everyone who has spoken both for and against this proposal today. I know you come at this with good intent. One wish from this day is that people stop throwing epithets at people who do not share their political views. Opposing Maori wards is not automatically “rascist” and being for them is not necessarily “separatist”. Let’s debate the issues at hand and stop labelling people. It is lazy and small minded.

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