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Decisions looming on Representation Issues

While new requirements relating to the establishment of Maori wards and constituencies are still awaiting enactment in the Local Government Electoral Legislation Bill, Gavin Beattie, a former Local Government Commission senior adviser, suggests councils should already be planning how they will address this representation issue. 

The Local Government Electoral Legislation Bill has been reported back to Parliament by the Governance and Administration Committee and, at the time of writing, awaits its second reading. 

However, given the looming timeframes in the Bill, it is suggested a large number of councils should be planning now for how they might give effect to the amended provisions for establishing Maori wards/constituencies and for enhanced representation generally.

A key provision in the Bill makes it mandatory for councils that do not currently have Maori wards or constituencies, to resolve whether to have “specific Maori representation”. 

The Bill also provides that councils that have had Maori wards or constituencies for the previous two triennial elections, may review this representation for the next elections.

Usefully, the select committee has clarified that councils that have had Maori wards or constituencies for just one triennial election, cannot review the decision to have these wards or constituencies for the next elections in 2025  but may review the detail of these arrangements such as the number of wards and members. This provision applies to the 32 councils that introduced Maori wards/constituencies for the 2022 elections.

The upshot of the committee’s recommendations is that 43 councils around the country will have to make a determination by 20 December 2023, on whether to establish Maori wards or constituencies. In addition, two further councils (Waikato Regional Council and Wairoa District Council) may also review their specific Maori representation ahead of the 2025 elections. The amended provisions will not apply to Bay of Plenty Regional Council which has its own legislation.

In order to make well-informed decisions, councils will need to engage with iwi/Maori on whether Maori wards/constituencies should be established in their area. Councils with well-established relationships and protocols with local mana whenua may well have already begun discussing the issue. For those that have not, this should be a priority with a period of two months likely to be a minimum for necessary preliminary engagement. Working back from the December deadline, means councils should be giving initial consideration to issues and options relating to specific Maori representation in April, so as to allow for the necessary engagement to commence in early May.

Feedback from the preliminary engagement will then allow councils to reach an initial position on specific Maori representation in July-August. Formal community-wide consultation could then occur say from mid-September to mid-November. This will allow councils to collate and consider the feedback received, in time for a final determination before the 20 December deadline.

In parallel with consideration of the issue of specific Maori representation, councils should also consider the electoral system option (FPP or STV). 

The last date by which councils must give public notice of any council resolution on the electoral system and the right to demand a poll on the electoral system, remains 19 September, two years before the next elections.

While the Local Government Electoral Legislation Bill as introduced, made no reference to the electoral system option, it was intended from the time of enactment of Part 1A of the Local Electoral Act that these two representation issues should be considered together. I pointed this out to the Governance and Administration Committee in a submission, and the committee has now acknowledged this point with further recommended amendments to the Bill.

The further amendments made include the last date a demand for a poll on the electoral system may be made and for the outcome to apply for the next election (by 11 December 2023 so as to apply for the 2025 elections). The last date by which councils must give public notice of any council resolution on the electoral system and the right to demand a poll on the electoral system, remains 19 September two years before the next elections, i.e. 19 September 2023. These dates are also accommodated in the indicative timeframes I have identified above.

The additional dates are important, as for a number of councils the option of specific Maori representation is not really a practicable option. This is on the basis of how Maori wards/constituencies are established, using the number of Maori registered on the Maori electoral roll. STV on the other hand, is often a more viable alternative for these councils for enhancing Maori representation. 

To demonstrate this point, Queenstown-Lakes District Council currently has 11 councillors, and in order to establish one Maori ward councillor position, it would have to increase the total number of councillors to 22, double the current number. Under STV, QLDC with 11 councillors elected at-large and say a 50 percent voter turnout, would have a quota
of approximately 1000 votes to get elected. 

The total Maori population of Queenstown-Lakes District 18 years of age or over, is approximately 1700. This represents a reasonable opportunity for a Maori representative to be elected, even if only 50 percent of Maori electors voted i.e. a total of 850 votes.

The further legislative amendments allow councils to consider the STV option alongside specific Maori representation. To enable this consideration to occur, councils need to be fully aware of the looming legislative deadlines for these options, and to be planning accordingly. The plan needs to allow maximum time for appropriate engagement and consultation, and then sufficient time for councils to reflect on the most appropriate arrangements for their city/district/region.

Councils will then be able to weigh the relative advantages and disadvantages of the different options available for enhancing representation for Maori and the community generally.

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