The move by the Government yesterday to end referenda on Councils establishing Maori wards is a big — possibly fatal — defeat for Don Brash’s Hobson’s Pledge movement and his far-right supporters.
At the same time the establishment of Maori wards on Councils, which will be a product of yesterday’s announcement, will bring Maori in much earlier in the resource management process.
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta appears to have shrewdly read the public mood and last night she was getting support from Kaipara Mayor, Jason Smith who has close National Party connections including his uncle, the former Speaker, Sir Lockwood Smith.
He tweeted: “Kaipara District Council was one of 9 Councils which made decisions last year on Maori wards. Now Kaipara’s one Maori ward for @CoolCouncil cannot be changed by petition or poll. Courageous leadership by @NanaiaMahuta, wahine toa.”
Last Friday in Tauranga Brash and his supporters held a rally to celebrate their achieving 5000 signatures on a petition which would require that the Council had a binding referendum at the local body elections next year on whether to establish Maori wards.
Mahuta said that petitions like that one would now lapse and the referendum would not go ahead.
Brash certainly got numbers to his Tauranga meeting; probably 300 mainly elderly Pakeha, many of whom had come in groups from rest homes.
Former Waitangi Tribunal, local iwi leader and erstwhile Council candidate, Buddy MIkaere had organised a small protest of both Maori and Pakeha. They were low key, providing wry, sarcastic commentary as the meeting progressed.
Brash argued that after Governor William Hobson said at Waiutangi “now we are one people” that every New Zealander had equal rights regardless of their ethnicity.
The evidence that Hobson actually said this is shaky; it was first reported by William Colenso 50 years after the signing in 1850. No other Pakeha witnesses to the signing reported the comment.
But Brash has founded his movement on it.
He argued that because the Treaty of Waitangi declared Maori to be British citizens, once it was signed, the Crown could not enter into any new partnership with its own citizens.
“It’s clear that every citizen has equal political rights,” he said.
“So if you have European ethnicity Maori ethnicity, Indian Pacific Island, ethnicity Chinese whatever; if you are a New Zealand citizen, you have the same rights as every other New Zealand citizen.”
He said that the question of Maori wards on Councils was “the biggest issue facing the country right now” which he said was separatism.
He announced to the applause of the Pakeha section of the audience that the petition to hold a referendum on Tauranga’s Maori Wards proposal had last Friday achieved the 5000 signature threshold is required for the referendum to go ahead.
“The question is how do you vote when that referendum comes about,” he said.
“I certainly hope you have the courage to say you do not want racially-based political representations in this city,” he said.
Brash’s speech was typically dispassionate, but other speakers were less disciplined.
The leader of the New Conservative Party, Elliot Ikilei, told the rally that Maori wards on Councils “went to a philosophy and an ideology of racial segregation by power.”
“People want equality,” he said.
“We just want to be treated the same.
“We don’t want anyone treated higher.
“Just because you’re whakapapa or your skin seems to be a different colour to someone else.
“At its very core, trying to change the perceived property of a human being based on the colour of their skin is nothing less than Nazi-style racism.”
Hobson’s Pledge spokesperson, Casey Costello, argued that if Maori wards were approved in Tauranga, the Council would be fighting between Maori and non-Maori for years.
She quoted Sir Peter Buck saying that we should beware of separatism; “Maori can do anything that Pakeha can do.”
She also quoted Governor Hobson at which point she was drowned with jeers from the protesters.
She got as far as saying “we must all be ….” But the protesters downed her out again shouting “we must all be sellouts.”
The last word went to Mikaere who had done a deal; if his fellow protesters “behaved” then they would get to speak.
Hobson’s Pledge may have ended up regretting that offer.
Pointing to his fellow tangata whenua and Pakeha protesters, he said: “That’s the future.”
“You have only got to talk to these kids in school and see what they’re learning at school and, you know, your time is done.”
Mikaere told the rally he believed the Government would soon announce that the ability to hold a referendum onwards would go, but even he would have been surprised that Mahuta acted as quickly as she did.
And what she announced went further than many thought she would go.
Since 2002, 24 councils have attempted to establish Māori wards (some more than once) either by resolving to establish the wards or through a council-initiated poll.
There have been 17 resolutions to establish Māori wards (including 9 in 2020), eight elector-demanded polls and 11 council-initiated polls (including 3 scheduled for 2022).
Where polls have been triggered by electors, all have resulted in the Council’s decision being overturned. Only one (council-initiated) poll, at Wairoa District Council in 2016, has resulted in Māori wards being established. A poll was not demanded when Waikato Regional Council established Māori constituencies in 2011. Māori constituencies at Bay of Plenty Regional Council were established under special legislation in 2001.
But under the legislation unveiled yesterday by Mahuta, further binding polls on Māori wards cannot be held.
“While binding polls on Māori wards will no longer be available to councils, they may choose to hold a non-binding indicative poll to gauge community sentiment and inform future decisions,” she said.
“The process of establishing a ward should be the same for both Māori and general wards.
“These are decisions for democratically elected councils, who are accountable to the public every three years.
“Polls have proven to be an almost insurmountable barrier to councils trying to improve the democratic representation of Māori interests.
“This process is fundamentally unfair to Māori.
Interestingly Mahuta said that having Maori wards would “lead to greater Māori participation in the resource management process.”
That comment is looking forward to the new Rescue Management legislation which is likely to involve Maori in the preparation of regional and spatial plans rather than have them simply commenting on consents as they are sought.
Judge Tony Randerson’s report on reforming the RMA last year proposed that over-riding everything should be the inclusion of a requirement that the Natural and Built Environments Act “give effect to the principles of Te Tiriti of Waitangi.” T
The report noted that the phrase “give effect” is much stronger than the current to “take account” and using the phrase “principles” enables the partnership to “go beyond the transaction that was made in 1840.”
The Te Reo name for the Treaty is also deliberate; that means that the version used will be the Te Reo version.
By implication, this means that Maori will have a more strategic role in the development of the regional plans.
Coming at the start of Waitangi week, and on the same day that National announced it would stand candidates in Maori seats, Mahuta’s announcement may be an important move for Labour as it seeks to retain the Maori vote.