“It is a really sad day for Māori.”
Those were the words of Whau councillor Kerrin Leoni following a 13 to 8 vote which saw discussions around Māori wards in Auckland put off until the end of next year.
Meanwhile, an amendment by Manukau councillor Alf Filipaina calling for Māori wards to be approved during Thursday’s governing body meeting was narrowly lost with nine councillors supporting, 11 opposing and Mayor Wayne Brown abstaining.
It was a day of ardent speeches, with councillors like Leoni and Filipaina calling on their peers to support Māori representation, while others echoed consultation showing a general public opposition of 68 percent.
The debating chamber in Auckland’s Town Hall had more members of the public than usual, and it soon became apparent a number were there under the instructions of Don Brash.
The former National Party leader had issued a request as a part of his right-wing lobby group Hobson’s Pledge’s lobbying, for people to attend the meeting and voice their opposition to Māori wards.
Hobson’s Pledge was involved in a large scale email campaign that had seen over a thousand emails landing in councillors’ inboxes calling on them to vote no.
Despite some heckling from the crowd, councillors like Manurewa-Papakura’s Angela Dalton appealed to their colleagues to give Māori a dedicated voice on the governing body.
“I find it rich that the majority of people who have been in power for 183 years are for the most part European,” she said. “And now we ask for equal treatment of our treaty partner, we’re going to call out racism? That’s pretty rich. The evidence shows us that Māori have not been treated as equal partners. The statistics are there… these things are real.”
Howick councillor Maurice Williamson said he was uncomfortable with a quorum of eleven councillors making constitutional changes to local government, and wanted to follow the wishes of respondents during the consultation process.
That consultation received just under 12,000 submissions and found feedback from Māori entities (87 per cent), Māori individuals (54 per cent) and local boards (85 per cent) was in support of the seats.
Opposition was more widespread among the wider public, however, with 68 percent of individuals and 54 percent of organisations opposed.
“If the people of Auckland want it, they should be allowed to have it,” Williamson said in reference to that majority opposition.
Leoni responded by questioning whether the consultation could really be looked at as representing Māori views equally.
“It’s disheartening to hear some of the korero that’s been brought up today around consultation when we know that Māori are only 10 to 13 percent of this population,” she said. “The European population will always outweigh the Māori voices for this city, so that is not correct to say that’s an equal representation of what the views should be around Māori wards.”
Others who wanted to postpone the decision on the seats included Deputy Mayor Desley Simpson, who argued Auckland Council was already ahead of other councils in terms of Māori representation due to the existence of groups like the Independent Māori Statutory Board.
IMSB members sit on a range of committees within the council, and can voter there, but don’t have a seat at the governing body that holds the most power and makes the big decisions on budgets.
Simpson said many mayors, including Wayne Brown, had nevertheless made sure to involve IMSB members in the governing body.
Other councillors questioned the need for dedicated Māori seats when there were already Māori councillors elected from the general roll.
“If you don’t like the nature of representation around this table, then resign your seat and make way for someone else,” Manurewa-Papakura councillor Daniel Newman said.
But Alf Filipaina said despite being Māori himself, he has been elected by the general population of Manukau and therefore couldn’t represent Māori across the region.
“I don’t have the mandate to speak for [Māori] with regards to their well-being, I got voted in by the community in the Manukau ward.” he said.
“The right thing is to have a Māori voice who has the mandate from those on the Māori electoral roll to speak on behalf of Māori across Tāmaki Makaurau. This is the right thing to do.”
But Filipaina’s pleas to his fellow councillors went largely unheeded, with those opposed to the seats citing a desire not to rush the process.
Franklin councillor Andy Baker said he wouldn’t be rushed and was looking forward to getting more into the detail to make sure the decision was made right.
“I’ve always lived by ‘do it once, do it well’,” he said.
But the ‘rushing’ argument held little water with those keen to see the seats enacted sooner rather than later.
Albert-Eden-Puketāpapa councillor Julie Fairey said if this was a rush, it was the slowest rush she’d ever seen, while Manukau’s Lotu Fuli said there had already been 183 years of postponement for Māori.
“Let’s not kick the can down the road again,” she said. “I’m sorry but this is not rushing it. By voting on it today…. Māori have been waiting since 1840 to be equal partners in the treaty that they signed. Today is the day to do that.”
She said Auckland as a region had the highest Māori population in the country – but it was not reflected around the governing body’s table.
“I’m really tired of seeing our tangata whenua having to beg for that,” she said. “And having people clap today. Oh, mate. I don’t really have the words to describe it.”
The offending applause was delivered from the public gallery, who gave a positive reception to a presenter, Chris Newman, who appeared at the beginning of the meeting in the public input section and decried the “Māorification” of New Zealand.
Fuli also questioned whether following the consultation results to the letter was really what councillors supported, or just when it was politically convenient for them.
She pointed to consultation around the decision to leave Local Government New Zealand. The majority of local boards opposed the council’s departure, and yet the governing body did it anyway.
A similar comparison can be made with the sale of the airport shares, where the majority of people wanted to keep all or more of the shares, but they were sold anyway.
Consultation is not the same as a binding referendum, and that’s continually been proven at Auckland’s decision-making table.
Williamson, who said he didn’t necessarily oppose or propose the idea of Māori seats, wanted more referenda.
“If anything is correct, it’s the public,” he said. “I feel very uncomfortable with 11 people deciding the constitutional future of anything.”
But like it or not, Williamson was part of the cohort of people who did decide the future of Māori representation on the council now.
He voted against Filipaina’s bid for Māori seats by 2025 and supported the deferral of the decision, which will likely see the seats’ first chance being in 2028.
Maungakiekie-Tāmaki councillor Josephine Bartley damned the decision as a crucial opportunity missed.
“I think we had the opportunity… to do the right thing by the 2025 election and we threw it away, anything less is anything less and that is what this is.”
She also had some strong words for the mayor, who abstained on the first vote and sought compromise: “If you don’t stand for something you stand for nothing.”
Meanwhile Angela Dalton said it was yet another compromise for Māori.
“You’re asking Māori to compromise again. It’s not good enough,” she said. “This is a cop-out. This is shameful. And hiding behind something like we need to do more work – more work, for God’s sake.”
Brown rejected the idea it was a missed opportunity, and seemed hopeful new work could be done on the topic before the end of next year, which could open a slim opportunity for the seats to be in place by the next local body election in 2025.
Staff from Auckland Council presented this as a vanishingly small chance, though, especially if fresh rounds of time-consuming consultation were called for.
It comes as a number of councils around the country ask themselves whether they should enact Māori wards.
Hauraki District Council will establish wards by the 2025 local election, while Waitomo District Council will not have them for at least the next two elections.
The results of the vote for Filipaina’s amendment, which would see Māori wards enacted in Auckland by 2025, were as follows:
- Josephine Bartley
- Angela Dalton
- Chris Darby
- Julie Fairey
- Alf Filipaina
- Lotu Fuli
- Shane Henderson
- Richard Hills
- Kerrin Leoni
- Andy Baker
- Christine Fletcher
- Mike Lee
- Daniel Newman
- Greg Sayers
- Desley Simpson
- Sharon Stewart
- Ken Turner
- Wayne Walker
- John Watson
- Maurice Williamson
- Mayor Wayne Brown