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Press Release: Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers, 11 February 2021

The Minister of Local Government is about to abolish referenda because they are alleged to be an unfair block on the introduction of Māori wards. In Rotorua, however, the Mayor’s majority and senior officials are pushing back against them, warning that they could undermine The Partnership they have with Te Arawa’s leaders and the Te Tatau o Te Arawa policy advisory board. RDRR calls for open discussions on the issue because it raises democratic principles such as fair and effective representation, and effective accountability.

“Those self-identifying as Māori in the Rotorua District are about 40 per cent of the population,’ explained Cr Peter Bentley. “If votes have equal value then that percentage would translate into four of the ten seats on Council going to Māori ward councillors elected by those on the Māori roll. The other six seats would go to councillors-at-large elected by those on the General Roll.”

“But,” he said, “the Mayor’s majority on Council and senior officials, Te Arawa leaders and the Te Tatau Board of 16 have all recognized that Māori wards would deliver less informal or behind-the-scenes power and appointments to Māori than the current structure, even though it would significantly improve accountability. And because most people do not support race-based representation, the introduction of Māori wards could easily turn the October 2022 elections into a proxy referendum and trigger divisive race-based politics.”

Cr Kumar said that RDRR recognizes that Māori have been badly served in the past regarding representation. And that Te Arawa’s partnership with the incoming Council from 2013 was believed by many to be a breakthrough consistent with some modern interpretations of the Treaty. Co-governance was promised and partially delivered, although Wellington never gave it the mana that some leaders expected.

However, he also noted that the Te Tatau Board is yet to give the two places promised to matāwaka, that is to non-Te Arawa Māori, and that it has been challenged by complex expectations from whanau and hapu. Māori wards could provide more direct representation and more intimate accountability that many would welcome. It is time, he argued, to review the effectiveness of current arrangements openly and transparently.

“Residents and ratepayers tend to evaluate The Partnership and the possible value of Māori wards by looking at outcomes since 2013,” said Cr Reynold Macpherson. “They weigh up results not words. They see that race-based priority-setting has too often resulted in waste, rising debt and rates, and disproportionate investment in iwi-owned corporations that already enjoy a 17.5 percent corporate income tax rate compared to the normal rate of 28 per cent.”

“Residents and ratepayers want a Council that focuses on infrastructure, core well-being services, debt retirement, and living within our means to mitigate the rates affordability crisis thay face in the Covid context. That is why they want to discuss Māori wards and General wards as a way of significantly improving direct engagement, clarifying intercultural priorities, providing direct accountability to communities and boosting the productivity of representatives.”

Currently two Te Tatau Board nominees each attend the meetings of the Strategy, Policy and Finance Committee and the Operations and Monitoring Committee, both subcommittees of Council. Māori wards, in contrast, would bring four Māori to the Council table with full voting rights and democratic legitimacy gained by direct and popular vote.

It has been estimated that four Māori ward councillors would each attract salaries including leadership responsibility payments of either $70,750 or $83,842, totaling $283,000-$335,368, which compares roughly to the annual budget of the Te Tatau Board which was raised 49 per cent in February 2020 from $250,000 to $373,000 pa.


Cr Peter Bentley, 027 493 0435

Cr Raj Kumar,   021 821 869

Cr Reynold Macpherson, 021 725 708