Eight Wellington City Councillors – given the critical constitutional choice of Treaty partnership or democracy – yesterday voted in favour of further undermining the council’s democratic election and decision-making structures by granting voting rights to the representatives appointed by Maori tribes to sit on council committees.
Only six councillors voted against an arrangement to allow one representative from each of Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika and Ngāti Toa Rangatira to sit on most council committees and subcommittees with full voting rights from 1 July.
The council will reimburse each tribe by paying an annual fee, equivalent to the remuneration of a full time elected member, which is currently $111,225.
Some councillors egregiously magnified their anti-democratic instincts by rebuking the Mayor (as the Dominion-Post reports) for
“ … putting forward an amendment calling for the ‘significant’ change to be put out for public feedback before going to a council vote.”
Curiously, the words “significant” has been put in quotes.
Does the newspaper think otherwise?
Apparently yes, because its report of this governance vote (relegated to Page 4 this morning) focused on Mayor Andy Foster being accused of “delay tactics” for suggesting the proposal be taken to the public for discussion.
One councillor, Jenny Condie, said the proposal did not require formal public feedback because it would be “rectifying an injustice”.
But shouldn’t the public be allowed to assess the nature of this injustice and influence the remedy?
Not in Condie’s book. She acknowledged she was opposed to allowing the public to have their say because some of their opinions might be racist.
Muzzling the public, it should be noted, is not a good way to ensure good decisions are made. At least, not according to the council website, which says:
To make the best possible decisions, the Council relies on participation and feedback from Wellingtonians.
Rebecca Matthews brought race into considerations, too, during the debate, saying seats on the council had traditionally been a “white privilege”.
The “privilege” she talks about has resulted from aspiring local government politicians standing for office and campaigning for voter support, then being held accountable for their actions at the next election.
Privilege, to the contrary, comes from bypassing the electoral system and appointing some people to decision-making positions without accountability to voters.
Foster tried to serve as a standard-bearer for democracy, reminding councillors that they had been democratically elected and were answerable to voters, whereas appointed iwi members would not be.
“We’re elected to make decisions for the whole community. I’m suggesting we agree in principle [to the proposal], but we allow the opportunity for the public to provide feedback,” he said.
“I think I’d like to give it more substance than just our view without any other input at all.”
Although Foster contended his proposal would not lead to a delay – the feedback he proposed would be received by May – his amendment amplified the anti-democratic sentiment on the council by attracting just one vote in the support.
The public perhaps can not complain it was kept in the dark about the proposal to enable Maori representatives to sit on Wellington City Council committees and subcommittees with full voting rights and remuneration of $111,000 for each tribe represented by July this year.
It is entitled to complain it was given scant time to digest the details. Just check out the time-line.
According to a New Zealand Herald report on April 4:
A report with details of the move to give mana whenua voting rights on WCC committees was made public this week.
Just four days later, the council was voting on the matter.
The Herald explained that, before the vote, local Maori tribes had appointees at the table who could discuss and debate matters, but they did not have the right to vote and were not remunerated.
The report to the council paved the way for change.
The report identified a preferred option to change this by allowing two representatives to sit on all council committees and subcommittees with full voting rights, excluding the CEO Performance Review Committee.
The representatives would be from Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika and Ngāti Toa Rangatira.
Under this option, the respective iwis would be paid an annual fee equivalent to the remuneration of a full time elected member, which is currently $111,225.
The other options set out in the report were to maintain the status quo or have representatives on the council’s main three committees with voting rights and an annual remuneration of $88,980 a year for each iwi.
The majority of the councillors who voted – governing a council beset with substantial financial problems that look likely to result in hefty rates increases – favoured the most expensive option.
As Scoop reported, councillors were told about similar arrangements on other councils.
Moreover, the council has taken a first step towards establishing a Māori ward, in time for the next election.
Day insists this does not mean the council should scrap other arrangements fabricated to fortify Maori participation in local government affairs.
“A Māori ward in itself is not the only tool we should be using to engage with Māori,” said Councillor Jill Day. “We need to be using multiple tools.
“We need to be creative, and we also need to not accept the status quo, so we do need to challenge and we do need to change and [to] be expecting our systems to become more inclusive.”
Day is not averse to spicing her rhetoric with cant:
“Our past has been that Māori have been legislatively excluded from decision-making, which they were actually promised the right to be a part of.”
Although New Zealand’s 1852 constitution was theoretically colour-blind, very few Māori were able to vote in early elections because they owned their lands communally. The wars of the 1860s fuelled debate about Māori representation, and in 1867 four parliamentary seats were set up specifically for Māori. As a result of this legislation, Māori men achieved universal suffrage 12 years before European men.
The 1893 Electoral Act gave all New Zealand women the vote, including Māori.
Day further undermined her argument when she said Wellington City Council has long had Māori representation and input in matters of local governance. The Council was the first local authority to establish a Māori Committee in 1989.
No matter. She is on a mission. In a comment beneath the Scoop report on the council vote, she enthuses:
Another step towards decolonisation of Wellington City Council today, Maori ward next.
It looks like decolonisation will be accompanied by a truncating of non-Maori rights.
The council website advises that at the 11 March 2021 Strategy and Policy Committee meeting, councillors agreed in principle to establish a Māori ward.
The council now is engaging
“ … with those who will be directly impacted by the decision – Māori and mana whenua”.
Three meetings were timetabled for this month. The first was held at Pipitea Marae for Taranaki Whānui members.
Other meetings are –
- Linden Community Centre – for Ngāti Toa members | Monday April 12 | 4.30-8pm
- ASB Sports Centre – for all in the Māori community | Tuesday April 20 | 4.30-8pm
Notice anyone missing?
The results of this engagement will be reported back to Council’s Strategy and Policy Committee on 13 May and will be referred to Council for final decision on 19 May.
If it is passed – who is putting money on it being scuttled? – the Māori ward will come into effect for the 2022 local elections.
For the record, the councillors who put a fuzzy and contentious Treaty “partnership” before democracy can be discerned from yesterday’s council vote:
For: Jenny Condie, Jill Day, Fleur Fitzsimons, Laurie Foon, Rebecca Matthews, Teri O’Neill, Iona Pannett, Tamatha Paul.
Against: Andy Foster, Diane Calvert, Sean Rush, Malcolm Sparrow, Simon Woolf, Nicola Young