The government has major problems to address.
Among them are dealing with Covid-19, including issues with border protocols, shortcomings in MIQ and lack of certainty around when and if we’ll get vaccines; the housing crisis; and increasing numbers of people in poverty.
Is it an admission it has no answers to these problems that instead of focusing on these, it is going to prioritise a law change to take away the right for people to petition against Maori wards on local councils?
The government is to introduce legislation to uphold council decisions to establish Māori wards, said Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta who made the announcement in New Plymouth today. . .
Mahuta said the rules needed to change.
“The process of establishing a ward should be the same for both Māori and general wards. . . “
Maori and general wards are very different – the latter apply to all people in the area, the former doesn’t.
If that difference isn’t a strong enough argument against the change and the issue is that general and Maori wards are treated differently a better solution would be to allow petitions over changes to all wards.
Discrimination isn’t solved by more discrimination, although a lack of Maori wards isn’t discrimination when Maori have the same rights as other New Zealanders to stand in local body elections.
If the issue is that in spite of this there are too few Maori on councils, the solution isn’t special wards, it’s addressing whatever stops more standing for councils in existing wards.
There is no single Maori view that will be given a voice by separate wards but this law change will give some Maori more control over councils with less accountability than general wards provide.
Stronger accountability tools for local government will be needed if the Government succeeds in entrenching Māori wards, says the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.
Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “As more councils introduce Māori wards, a significant proportion of our local representatives will be accountable to just one segment of local of voters. This loss of accountability needs to be offset with new accountability tools.”
“An obvious example is recall elections: when a councillor breaks a promise or brings disgrace to their authority, voters shouldn’t have to wait until the next election to vote them out of office. Voters should be able to petition to recall a councillor. Under this model, as practiced in the UK and many parts of the United States and Canada, if the petition reaches a given threshold of signatures a recall election will be triggered for that ward.”
Last year the Taxpayers’ Union, the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance, and Northern Action Group jointly released a paper proposing recall elections. It is available at www.taxpayers.org.nz/recall_paper.
Disfunction in several councils in recent years provide good arguments for the ability to petition for recall elections. Losing the right to petition against Maori wards is another one.
What makes this worse is that it appears this was on Labour’s agenda before the election but wasn’t in the party’s election policies.
That wouldn’t have made a difference to the outcome but it is a very bad look for a government that aspires to be open and transparent.