The Hastings District Council is about to decide if it, too, should debase its democratic governance system and grant voting rights to unelected members who will sit alongside elected councillors on its standing committees.
A proposal to amend constitutional arrangements and weaken the council’s lines of accountability to citizens and ratepayers will be considered by the council at its next full council meeting on Thursday.
After how much robust public debate?
The aim – according to a council press statement – is to
” … bring about more informed, inclusive, effective decision making.”
Moreover, it is
“… for increased Maori participation in Hastings District Council decision-making through the appointment of HDC: Maori Joint Committee tangata whenua representatives to the council’s four standing committees.”
Fair to say, whatever transpires may be short-lived.
The new arrangements will remain in place only until the 2019 local government election, to be reviewed afterwards “should the resulting governance request it”.
Furthermore, the council at least can be given credit for taking its time. It says such a move has been under consideration since 2017 when the HDC: Maori Joint Committee began debating their role after committee members earlier voted against the prospect of introducing Maori wards.
We may suppose Maori wards would have required aspiring Maori members of council committees to stand for election against rival candidates.
Another issue, no doubt, is that they would have raised the hackles of significant numbers of citizens and ratepayers who bridle against the concept of race-based council seats.
How much of the deliberation since 2017 has involved the voting public is a moot point.
The council is justifying its proposal by pointing to the proliferation of precedents around the country:
Many councils around the country have standing committees with appointed Maori members who can have voting rights, as is being suggested for Hastings, or attend meetings as observers.
The Marlborough District Council has an iwi representative on each of its standing committees who have full speaking and voting rights, and other councils such as Masterton District Council, Clutha District Council, Auckland City Council and Rotorua Lakes Council have Maori appointees with voting rights on some of their committees.
In Hawke’s Bay, Napier City Council’s resource consents hearing committee has one Maori appointee with full voting rights and the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council has two Maori appointees with full voting rights on its Environment Management Committee, Asset Management and Biosecurity Committee and Strategic Planning and Finance Committee.
This is not so much a good reason for the Hastings District Council to do likewise as an indictment of the extent to which other local bodies – succumbing to the cant of “inclusiveness“, “the Treaty” and “partnership” – have weakened their democratic structures.
The council says the recommendation it will consider on Thursday is that
” … appropriately skilled non-elected tangata whenua members of the HDC-Maori Joint Committee be appointed, with voting rights, to each of the four standing committees: Community Development (Evelyn Ratima), Finance and Risk (Ngaio Tiuka), Strategy Planning and Partnerships (Tracee Te Huia) and Works and Services (Te Rangihau Gilbert).”
They would not receive any extra remuneration for the additional roles.
But the critical question here is whether voters should be the ones who decide which candidates are “appropriately skilled” and suitable to sit on council committees.
Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst presumably thinks not.
She says she sees huge value in tangata whenua involvement in committee decision making.
“Maori participation on all matters facing our community could bring a broader perspective to how we evaluate issues, and improve the quality of our decisions.
“I believe we have an opportunity to improve on our current model.
“Other councils across New Zealand have introduced similar models and have seen significant benefits resulting in better partnerships with iwi and greater community engagement.”
Better partnerships, perhaps.
A stronger democracy?
Obviously not – but if the Hasting district has the same experience as the Canterbury region, it will find the Maori representatives on its decision-making bodies aren’t too keen on this democracy lark.
Remember what Ngai Tahu told a select committee hearing in 2015 on the Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Bill?
The legislation was designed to introduce a mixture of elected councillors and government-appointed commissioners to Environment Canterbury from 2016.