22 May 2018

Rejection of Māori wards: 'This is wrong'

11:48 am on 22 May 2018

Māori wards have now been rejected in five binding referendums across the country.

Toni Boynton is leading the social media campaign against the petition.

Toni Boynton is leading the social media campaign against the petition. Photo: The Whakatane Beacon

More than 70 percent of voters in Manawatu and Western Bay of Plenty voted against having dedicated Māori representation on their councils.

In Palmerston North, 68 percent voted against, and in Kaikōura, preliminary results show 80 percent voted against.

It was closer in Whakatāne, where 55 percent voted against Māori wards on the district council.

Toni Boynton, who took to the streets in support of wards in Whakatāne, said she had hoped the hikoi and her 'vote yes' social media campaign would get Māori wards over the line.

Ms Boynton said while the result was disappointing, she was proud that nearly half the town backed the idea.

"Of course there's disappointment because we really thought that we could push it over the line.

"To be able to achieve a 44 percent vote against a huge majority that are non-Māori shows that we have a lot of our non-Māori whānau who are really supportive in this community."

Former New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd was called a 'bigot' and spat on by strangers when he tried to establish a Māori ward in 2014.

He said he was not surprised and said the results reflected persistent racist attitudes.

"It highlights the fact that this is broken, this is wrong, and seriously the government needs to step up and show some real leadership because these results divide communities - it's horrendous."

Andrew Judd at Select Committee.

Former New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd said the results reflect persistent racist attitudes. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council has had three Māori wards for the last 12 years.

It's allowed local voters on the Māori electoral roll to elect a Māori representative on the council.

Council chair Doug Leader said there had always been public support for them and a referendum had never been needed.

He said other councils would benefit from a Māori voice at the decision-making table.

"Councillors have a much better understanding of Māori tikanaga and thought processes that Māori at an iwi level and hapū level have - in terms of dealing with environmental issues."

Whakatāne councillor Russell Orr was pleased with the referendum results.

He voted against a Māori ward because he said he did not want to impose one on his community.

That was despite Māori making up 43 percent of the Whakatāne population.

Mr Orr, however, questioned that figure.

"Define Māori for me and we'll have a conversation, no one has ever successfully done that and I think the last definition I got was anyone who feels Māori or identifies as Māori can be a Māori ... that's no basis on which to start implementing seats is it?"

In all five referendums, the voter turnout was about 40 percent.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs