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Robert Lee takes Council to Court over controversial bill

RDRR endorsed Councillor Candidate Robert Lee is challenging Rotorua District Council’s decision of 19 November 2021 to seek statutory reform through Parliament to provide for co-governance style elections for Rotorua. Here is the Statement of Claim.

On 19 November 2021 the Rotorua District Council passed the following five-part motion:

That Council:

1. Confirm its commitment and ongoing support for Māori wards as made by Council on 21 May 2021;

2. Affirm that voters on the Māori electoral roll should not be permanently locked into a minority and should have equal opportunity as those on the general roll to vote for a Council they consider will best represent their interests (voter parity);

3. Affirm the electoral system for Rotorua should honour the Rotorua Township Agreement (1880) [also known as The Fenton Agreement] and meet the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi;

4. a. Agree that the ideal representational model for Rotorua would comprise;

(i) 1 Mayor elected at large

(ii) 1 Māori ward with 3 seats (Te Ipu Wai Taketake ward)

(iii) 1 General ward with 3 seats (Te Ipu Wai Auraki ward)

(iv) 4 “At large” seats

(v) A Rotorua Lakes Community Board

(vi) A Rural Community Board

b. Note that the preferred model (see 4a above) is not currently enabled under the current Local Electoral Act, Council instructs the Chief Executive to pursue the necessary statutory reforms, or other means, by which the preferred model can be adopted by Council at the earliest possible time, including if possible, prior to the 2022 election.

5. a. Notwithstanding 4 above, for the purposes of meeting the requirements of the Local Electoral Act agree an interim representation model comprising;

      •  1 Mayor elected at large
      •  1 Māori ward with 1 seat (Te Ipu Wai Taketake ward)
      •  1 General ward with 1 seat (Te Ipu Wai Auraki ward)
      •  8 “At large” seats
      •  A Rotorua Lakes Community Board
      •  A Rural Community Board

b. Note that the interim model (see 5a above) falls short of Council’s preferred model however preserves the principles of voter parity (see 2 above).

Part 4 of the motion that is the impugned decision that is challenged by the Judicial Review. The Maori Affairs Select Committee attempted to pass the Bill through Parliament under urgency by the end of May 2022, in time for this year’s local government elections. However, the Bill attracted nationwide criticism including from the Attorney General who said:

I have concluded the Bill limits s 19 (freedom from discrimination) and, on the information available to me, cannot be justified under s 5 of the Bill of Rights Act.

The committee received more than 10,000 submissions in opposition, many of whom requested to make oral submissions.

On 28 April 2022 the Council was voted to the Council voted to “pause” the Bill. However, the Bill was not withdrawn from Parliament. The committee has resolved to report to the House no later than 6 October 2022. If the Bill is not withdrawn the co-governance model could be passed for the 2025 election.

On 8 April 2022, Part 5 of the motion was overturned by the Local Government Commission, ruling that the 2022 election mode would comprise a 3-seat Maori Ward, 1 seat Rural Ward and 6 seat General Ward.

The hearing for the Judicial Review hearing is scheduled for 4 August 2022 in the Rotorua High Court. The hearing is open to the public.