Yes, Ngai Tahu could campaign for votes to win council seats – but why bother, if privilege is granted to let it bypass the ballot box?

Waimakariri MP Matt Doocey, the highest-ranked South Island and Canterbury MP in National’s recently reorganised caucus, went out to open the batting for democracy in the debate triggered by the introduction of the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill.

He expressed the Nats’ opposition to the legislative entrenchment of a governance arrangement which the council (also known as Environment Canterbury, or ECan) and Ngai Tahu have recognised as “a privilege”.

But Doocey was on sticky wicket, his task complicated by the council’s recent history and by the Nats’ role in the introduction of this privilege.

It was a National-led government which,in 2010, sacked all elected members of the council and replaced them with appointed commissioners.

A few years later, to ease the path to restoring a democratically elected council in 2019, the National-led government came up with a mix of elected and appointed council members, including two Ngai Tahu appointees.

After democracy was restored, the council and Ngai Tahu wanted to keep the Ngai Tahu appointees – and they were keen to stay on.

A joint council-Ngai press statement in October 2020 explained what happened.

Under The Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Act 2016,

“… Environment Canterbury had the privilege of mana whenua representation on Council through two appointed Councillors. The Act expired in October 2019.

“In anticipation of the expiry of The Act, Environment Canterbury and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu put forward a Local Bill which sought to continue mana whenua representation on Council due to the enormous value it provided. Unfortunately, the Local Bill did not proceed through Parliament at that time (April 2019).”

And so Environment Canterbury and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu came up with another governance arrangement – the creation of two new jobs, or  “Tumu Taiao” roles, to advise the council in the interests of mana whenua.

“Appointing the Tumu Taiao – Mana Whenua Experts on Council – is the best recognition Environment Canterbury can give to the Treaty of Waitangi and mana whenua within the current constraints of the Local Government Act.”

But the council and Ngai Tahu now want something even better than the best.   They want the two tribal advisers to be given council voting rights.

This would be effected through the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill which only National and ACT oppose.

During his first reading speech, Doocey ventured back as far as 2019 to point out that much the same Bill had been defeated then by New Zealand First, National and ACT. He said:

“It will be no surprise to this House that National will oppose this Bill. We opposed it the last time this legislation came to the House.”

He then acknowledged Labour’s Rino Tirikatene, who is promoting the Bill, as “a fantastic member of Parliament for Te Tai Tonga”.

He further acknowledged Ngāi Tahu as “a very powerful collective in Canterbury and Ōtautahi” and  as “a strategic partner who we are very lucky to have, and a cornerstone of our history, a cornerstone of our present, and a cornerstone of our future ahead”.

Done with the pleasantries, he got around to the business of opposing the proposed legislation, first by asking why – procedurally – it was a local Bill and not a Government Bill, and much the same as the Bill that failed to get beyond the first reading stage in 2019.

The numbers game in Parliament is different this time:

“Democracy has spoken and we are now in a one-party State, and the Labour Party are able to pass this Bill without needing the support of any other parties. So that’s why it does come back in from the 52nd Parliament to the 53rd Parliament, and it’s very clear—it’s been introduced by a Labour member of Parliament—that it will pass its first reading today.”

But he could not avoid National’s sacking of the elected councillors in 2010 and the appointment of commissioners.

“Well, that’s right. Environment Canterbury (ECan) was an appallingly performing regional council—probably the lowest ranked in league tables in New Zealand—and, quite rightly, the National Government of the day appointed all the commissioners. But I must remind the Labour Party that it was them who screamed black and blue that appointments were to be made, and they asked that democracy be restored.”

Now it has been restored and Doocey is challenging the aim to reinstate direct Ngāi Tahu representation on the council.

“I would argue there is representation at council level. Ngāi Tahu do have observers in the council who will be part of the conversations now and providing input and, no doubt, influencing decisions.”

Observers? Or advisers?

No matter.  Doocey’s issue is that they are unelected and the Bill he is opposing will give them voting rights.

But –

“There is no reason why Ngāi Tahu representatives can’t be elected on to ECan, and … [the proposed legislation] doesn’t prevent the council going through the process of setting up Māori wards.

“So we will end up in a position of having 14 elected councillors plus two appointed from Ngāi Tahu and, potentially, more from Māori wards.”

Doocey refuted the contention that mana whenua would be deprived of a voice at the council table and of the tribe’s “direct input at the highest level” if the Bill is not passed.

He noted the council prefers “direct appointment” for Ngai Tahu but demanded:

“Well, what does the public prefer? Well, we don’t know, because there was no public consultation.”

He then returned to the matter of this being a local Bill that was not about representation but was about enacting voting rights.

He said he had sought advice from the Clerk’s Office on why it was a local Bill, because he understood primary legislation could not be amended with a local bill.

He had been advised the Bill doesn’t amend the Local Government Act 2002. Rather, it creates a new stand-alone local Act that requires the Local Government Act to be applied in certain ways.

“So what we’re actually creating is a workaround, which I don’t believe is fundamentally good law.”

Doocey asked:

“Are we going to start appointing people at local body level that haven’t sought or gone through the electoral process—who haven’t been elected? Where is the view of the public and where is the mandate of the public in this Bill?”

He said he didn’t think anyone disagreed with representation for Ngāi Tahu on ECan, because they’re there now.

“What we’re talking about is: should those representatives have the ability for the right to vote? That poses the question of who, then, is appointing the representatives, and why shouldn’t people who haven’t been appointed by Ngāi Tahu have the ability to stand up and put their hand up in an election? Why can’t they do that?”

Maori Development Minister Willie Jackson described this as “a sad, sad contribution from that member, Matt Doocey, given the democracy that they talk about”.

He contended:

“The previous Prime Minister John Key would have supported this. Actually, no, no. After John Key was Bill English—he would have supported this. Chris Finlayson would have supported this.

“But sadly we’ve got this new National Party, who all of a sudden have forgotten their history, their background, and now are putting up idiotic questions about why would the Māoris who go to the council want to speak?”

Actually, the question was why should Parliament pass legislation to enable Ngai Tahu to bypass the electoral process and be guaranteed two representatives, which it appoints, to sit on the council.

But Jackson argued that National supported Ngāi Tahu places on the council between 2016 and 2019, and this reinstatement of rights was a reaffirmation of tino rangatiratanga in terms of Ngāi Tahu.

He brought the candard of the “Treaty partnership” into play:

“What the National Party doesn’t understand is that Māori have a special partnership. Māori are the Crown’s partner. You need to read that. And when you are the Crown’s partner, you get opportunities like this.”

Wrapping up, Jackson gave us his idea of democracy, saying

“… democracy is also about recognising indigenous people and an indigenous voice—something that the National Party lot and the right-wing fascists on the right here, the ACT Party, have forgotten and don’t understand, because you want to suppress, oppress, and depress Māori.”

But Nicola Grigg (National—Selwyn)  said the Nats took exception to a Bill that resulted from ECan using its democratically elected powers to undemocratically force a change on weak Canterbury ratepayers without their consent.

Not one of us ratepayers have been consulted on this. Using the process outlined in this Bill, Ngāi Tahu would confirm two appointees in a process that has not required democratic input.

Those two appointees, as we’ve discussed, would sit alongside a democratically elected council with full voting rights. I ask the Labour Party, the Government, to consider treating Canterbury ratepayers with a little more respect.”

Moreover she asked why a tribe as successful and as powerful as Ngāi Tahu, which has people of exceptional experience, skill set, calibre and ability to stand on their own two feet, could not stand for local body election on their own credentials.

But they won’t have to bother, if this legislation is enacted.

One thought on “Yes, Ngai Tahu could campaign for votes to win council seats – but why bother, if privilege is granted to let it bypass the ballot box?

  1. Tuatara are pretty indigenous to New Zealand, but humans are not. Maori and non Maori enjoy equal civil and political rights under the Treaty, read it. Jackson is talking offensive nonsense, again. Ardern is on track to be remembered throughout history as the Dr Verwoerd of New Zealand.


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