ADDITIONAL REPORTING: JULIA WADE
Democracy Northland has delivered the largest ever paper petition to three of Northland's council's proposing to introduce Maori wards.
John Bain, former regional councillor, and one of the petition organisers, says the response has been huge.
“It is the largest paper petition ever presented to the councils and sends a loud and clear message to all of the local councils in Northland that the people they represent want to have a say on whether Maori wards are introduced."
Across the three councils Democracy Northland collected 15,212 signatures, 5315 more than the 9897 that were needed to trigger a binding referendum under the current legislation.
The signature count in all three councils was above the five percent threshold required. In Kaipara 8.7 percent of registered voters signed the petition, 8.3 percent in Whangarei, and 7.2 percent for the Northland Regional Council.
Bain says local government minister Nanaia Mahuta has introduced a Bill before Parliament that would remove the compulsion for a local council to hold a binding referendum, but adds that changing the law will not remove the fact that there is significant community opposition to council changing the voting system without consulting the public, and the onus is now fairly and squarely on local councils to respect the wishes of the 15,000-plus petitioners.
"We are calling on the Northland Regional Council, the Whangarei District Council and the Kaipara District Council to hold a referendum on this important issue and to do so at the time of next year's local body election. And we are calling on the Far North District Council to stick with its previous decision to do so.
"We thank the community for their incredible support. Democracy Northland is not going away. The extraordinary act by Minister Mahuta has energised our supporters and made us even more aware that we need to take a stand if we are to protect the democratic rights that generations of New Zealanders have fought for."
In response, Northland Regional Council (NRC) and Kaipara District Council (KDC) both state however they will not be initiating a referendum on the Maori ward issue as requested by Democracy Northland.
KDC spokesperson, general manager of engagement and transformation, Jason Marris, says elected council members decided not to do a poll, saving ratepayers $30,000.
“Council voted to introduce a Maori ward after consulting with Maori, who are most affected. If the new legislation comes in to force, any further poll would be non-binding,” he says. “Next week we will start discussions on the representation review process and will be inviting communities in Kaipara District to engage in that process.”
NRC chair Penny Smart says council is committed to having Maori ‘sit at the council decision-making table’.
“The amendment to the legislation removing the requirement to go out to a poll (referendum) is fantastic news for council and tangata whenua of Te Taitokerau,” she says. “We can now move on with developing the proposed details of the Maori constituencies and putting them out for public feedback later this year.”
The onus is now fairly and squarely on local councils to respect the wishes of the 15,000-plus petitioners.
- John bain