Submission re the Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill
David McPherson, 18 April 2022
The main points of my submission are:
1. The Bill should not proceed;
2. The process is unfair to submitters;
3. There has been minimal local support for the Bill;
4. The Bill is unnecessary;
5. The Bill is not justified;
6. Other detail.
I will now enlarge on these points.
· The Maori Affairs Select Committee is chaired by the promoter of the Bill. He has publicly stated unqualified support for the Bill and disagreed with people who have questioned it. It would be very difficult for any submitters who disagree with the Bill to feel that they are receiving a fair hearing if he remains on the committee. I suggest that he should not be part of any committee hearing or deliberations on the matter in order to dispel feelings of unfairness.
· The Maori Affairs Select Committee is not the appropriate committee to deal with this Bill. According to the NZ Parliament website the committee looks at business related to Māori affairs and Treaty of Waitangi negotiations. This Bill deals with local government representation. The Governance and Administration committee looks at business related to local government and is clearly the committee that should be tasked with administering the progress of this Bill.
· I submit that the Maori Affairs Select Committee pass the responsibility for the Bill to the Governance and Administration Select Committee as the most appropriate body to deal with it.
· Only two weeks were allowed for submissions, including the Easter break. This was despite the Parliamentary programme not requiring the Committee to report back before October. This unfortunately creates the perception that Parliament has little interest in hearing from the public. I submit that the period for submissions should be reopened to allow for a greater public input.
Lack of support for the Bill:
· The Bill had its genesis in May 2021 when the RDC (Rotorua District Council) resolved to establish a Maori Ward for the next election but failed to give any consideration to the practicality of its implementation. It was notable that Cr Tania Tapsell opposed that motion. The Council has found itself in difficulty ever since in trying to find a model that provided fair and effective representation of communities of interest.
· After the Council notified its initial proposal in September 2021, it received 169 submissions of which only two supported or were neutral on it while 167 did not support all aspects of the proposal or did not state that they supported the proposal.
· The Council’s Strategy, Policy & Finance Committee at its meeting on 16 November 2021 rejected 100% of the submissions received. The motion to adopt a model which had not been proposed in any submissions and to recommend to the Council that a law change to allow its preferred model be pursued was only passed when the chairperson went against the convention of supporting the status quo and instead supported the motion.
· The Council considered the committee’s recommendations on 19 November and voted 6-5 to adopt the 1M,1G,8AL model as its final proposal but then stated that it was only an interim proposal while a law change was pursued.
· The Local Government Commission found that the Council’s model did not result in fair and effective representation of communities of interest and determined a model that was based on the submissions it received, after taking account of the Council’s opinions.
· The Council did not ask either of its local electorate MP’s to sponsor the Bill but instead had it sponsored by a party list MP.
· In summary, the Council did not consult its public on the content of its Local Bill; only six of the twelve members of the Strategy, Policy & Finance Committee supported it; only five councillors and the Mayor are known to support it; and the Bill was not sponsored by either of the Members of Parliament with electorates that include Rotorua. Consequently there is no basis for any claim that the Bill has the support of the people of Rotorua.
The Bill is undesirable, unnecessary and not justified:
· The presumption in the Bill is that Rotorua should have a different basis of representation to the rest of the nation with a minimum number of councillors elected by Maori voters, presumably because of its significant Maori population. That is not a good basis for a change. It would be easier to mount a case for a minimum number of Maori seats on a Council with a small Maori population. It would be nonsensical to allow every council to request an electoral law change that is specific to their boundaries. If the electoral system is wrong, it should be changed for the whole country, not just for Rotorua.
· On a proportionate basis, our 10 member council should have 2.8 Maori councillors. Currently we have four councillors with Maori heritage, plus a mayor who had a Maori husband. Of the other six councillors, only three are of European heritage with the other three coming from Asian roots. It would be reasonable to assume that the number of Maori councillors would have increased in the future if the system had been left unchanged. My major concern is that a council with preferential seats based on voter’s ethnicity will lead to race based voting rather than choosing candidates on merit. In addition there is little point in a model that only guarantees a smaller number of Maori councillors than we have at present and which could easily lead to less racial tolerance than our community currently enjoys. In my own submission to the Council I suggested a model with five Maori councillors but that was just one of the 169 that were rejected.
· The Council has promoted the misguided view that ‘parity’ and ‘fairness’ are equivalent. Their position is that every elector should have the same number of votes rather than all votes having equal value. This has never been the case in councils with geographic wards having different numbers of councillors, ie, in a ward with 5 councillors a person gets 5 votes and in a ward with 1 councillor a voter only gets one vote. For the RDC to argue that this is only fair for other councils but unfair for our own makes no sense.
Details of the Bill:
If the Committee is still of a mind to proceed with the Bill, I submit that the following changes be made”
· Clause 5 (This Act binds the Crown). This clause should be omitted. No reason has been put forward by the Council for its inclusion. The Crown should not be a party to the local politics of New Zealand councils.
· Clause 7 should be omitted. The Council has not consulted its people on this Bill. Rather than make it easy for the Council to extend the provisions of an electoral model that had not been consulted on prior to its presentation to Parliament, the Council should be required to go through the normal review procedures under the Local Electoral Act 2001.
· Clause 10(1) should be amended by adding (e) “1 member by the electors of the Rotorua Rural Community.” The Local Government Commission found that the Council’s final determination did not provide fair and effective representation of communities of interest when it added a rural seat to the Council. The Council has ignored this finding with its Local Bill and this should be rectified.
· Clause 13 ‘Co-governance’. No reason has been given for this clause which has been included with no conditions or limitations. As such it virtually confers the powers of Parliament on a local authority. The clause should be omitted. If it is retained it should be considerably amended to specify the limits of the Council’s co-governance.
· The Bill does not contain any reference to the ratepayer franchise. With geographically based wards the vote is allocated to the ward where the property is situated. With wards based on ethnicity there is no such certainty. Does this mean that a ratepayer vote can only be exercised for the at-large ward? This would be a contradiction of the Council’s ‘parity’ argument. The Bill needs to provide the means of determining which ethnic ward the ratepayer’s vote will be cast in.
1. I submit that the Bill should not proceed. If this is not accepted, my other points include:
2. The process does not appear appropriate. The Bill should be referred to the Governance and Administration Select Committee and the submission period reopened to allow more informed comment on the Bill.
3. No public support for the Bill has been demonstrated by the Council. Even the Council itself has barely supported it with recorded votes being carried by minimal margins.
4. There is no more justification for Rotorua to have an electoral model that does not conform to the current law than there is for any other council. Any law change should apply to the country as a whole.
5. The proposed model is likely to lead to voters choosing candidates in the at-large ward based on ethnicity rather than merit and will result in disharmony in the Rotorua community.
6. ‘Parity’ and ‘fairness’ are not equivalent and the Council is wrong to promote this notion.
7. If the Committee is still of a mind to proceed with the Bill, I submit that changes be made to clauses 5, 7, 10, and 13 and provision made to determine how the ratepayer franchise will be exercised.