It was the Battle of Hastings, 2019. On one side, the stalwarts of democracy intent on defending their ideal of the best form of government for their district. On the other side, the champions of attenuated lines of accountability between citizens and those who govern them.
The democrats were outnumbered and the Hastings District Council – 33.3% of its members of Maori descent – voted to fortify iwi influence by appointing four members of the Maori Joint Committee to the council’s four standing committees.
This was decided after a debate which the NZ Herald curiously said became “divisive”, apparently because four councillors argued the decision should be taken to a public poll – a suggestion which, given the constitutional implications of the issue, had a great deal of merit.
This is especially so in a district where the citizens already have voted against a proposal to create a race-based electoral system by introducing Maori wards.
The four councillors who voted against the deliquescence of their democracy (a process insidiously spreading through the country’s local authorities to the accompaniment of cries of “partnership”) were Rod Heaps, Simon Nixon, Kevin Watkins and Malcolm Dixon.
This mischievously implies a Maori voice has not previously been heard in that part of the country, contrary to a council press statement which Waatea News only partly quoted. It notes:
- The Maori Joint Committee was established in 2005 (it comprises the mayor, five councillors and six appointed members from tangata whenua).
- Five members of the elected council (a mayor and 14 district councillors) have identified as being of Maori descent.
- This means 33.3% of elected councillors are of Maori descent in a district where 25% of the population is Maori.
Not good enough, apparently.
The council’s press statement says the prospect of greater tangata whenua representation in council decision making has been under discussion for at least two years and has been the subject of several workshops between councillors and the council’s Maori Joint Committee.
So what’s wrong with the representation provided by the five councillors with Maori ancestry?
The press statement amplifies a council fixation with race when it explains the five “were elected on their wider merits, rather than on a solely Maori mandate”.
Oh dear. They represent the whole community, not just a part of it,
There was another consideration: the council says “there were also no guarantees what the make-up of the council would be beyond the next election cycle, and a more permanent and robust model for Maori representation was considered necessary“.
In other words, voters are not to be trusted to make the right choices.
The tears and singing which followed the vote was understandable: it means the four members who will be appointed to standing committees – Evelyn Ratima, Ngaio Tiuka, Tracee Te Huia and Te Rangihau Gilbert – don’t have to bother with the cumbersome process of campaigning for electoral support, as other local body politicians must do.
Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst proudly led the charge towards establishing a governance arrangement even less democratic than the one rejected by the citizens when they were given a chance to have their say.
Her voice cracked as she started her speech, saying, through tears, that she was proud to speak against the motion suggesting the decision should go to a public poll.
“I have loved my journey with the Māori Joint Committee for six years.
“This is how we can have a council which we’ve agreed to be more inclusive, a council which hears the voice of our iwi partners, Te Ao Māori perspective, for us to learn from.”
More inclusive, perhaps – but less democratic.
This was recognised by Councillor Simon Nixon, who moved the motion to take the decision to the public.
“What we are talking about here is democracy, the principle of one man, or one person, one vote, and it is my opinion this does not meet that criteria.”
This Nixon bloke reportedly said it was an attempt by a small group to muscle in, or gatecrash.
Now let’s wait to see how the appointees will flex their muscle.
An element of acculturation seems likely.
Mayor Hazlehurst said the decision meant the council would be more inclusive, and the representatives would bring valued knowledge from Te Ao Māori – the Māori world.
“These representatives will bring valued skills, knowledge and experiences which will allow us to learn from the Maori worldview.”
Tiuka, a Ngati Kahungunu Iwi Inc director, underscored this, saying:
“As a nation the intolerance of Te Ao Māori or the Māori world view is obsolete and needs to be ignored.”
The Hastings District Council’s four standing committees each provide oversight and policy direction in a certain area.
All councillors sit on the standing committees but any decision made at committee level must be ratified at a full council meeting.
The four iwi representatives are not receiving remuneration for sitting on the committees
Under Section 41 of the Local Government Act, only elected representatives may vote at the full Council meetings.
Under Schedule 7, however, council can appoint a person or persons to a committee or subcommittee if, in the opinion of the local authority, that person has the skills, attributes, or knowledge that will assist the work of a committee or subcommittee.
Citizens will be going to the polls later in the year, of course.
Afterwards – the mayor acknowledged – any new governance arrangements and all committee representations will be reviewed.