Māori have long argued for their own wards and constituencies within local government. Now a paper by Victoria University of Wellington’s Maria Bargh outlines new ways in which they can represent themselves and be involved in decision-making in local government.
Maria Bargh (Te Arawa, Ngāti Awa) is head of school and senior lecturer in Māori studies at Victoria University of Wellington. Her research into the Te Arawa Partnership Board’s inaugural elections in 2015 suggests that tribal members who live away from their areas remain keenly interested in the governance of the resources in their home tribal areas.
This, in turn, suggests that Māori continue to have strong connections and interests to vote in places where they have tribal connections. More to the point, they may possibly have more of an interest in their tribal areas than in the places where they simply reside and work.
Maria says the broader implications for local government legislation are significant.
She argues that if there is an opportunity for legislative change to implement a more effective and mandatory system for Māori wards and constituencies, legislators must consider the appropriateness of distinguishing between two groups: mana whenua (those who have traditional authority in particular areas) and mātaawaka (Māori who live in urban towns or cities but who are not of the main mana whenua group).
Maria goes on to say that legislators should also investigate two main ideas. The first is whether an independent board model better enables local government to uphold its Treaty of Waitangi duties.
Second, she says legislators should look into how Māori can better exercise their tino rangatiratanga (self-determination) by using forms of representation sourced in tikanga Māori (the body of rules developed by Māori to govern themselves).
Maria’s paper is titled Opportunities and complexities for Māori and mana whenua representation in local government and is published in the Political Science journal.
In it she outlines existing legislative options available to Māori for representation and involvement in decision-making at a local level.
Importantly, Maria highlights the current lack of clarity for local government regarding their Treaty of Waitangi duties and obligations.
Existing legislative options for Māori representation have been introduced with some reference to the principles of the treaty, she says. But the main emphasis in discussion of Māori representation has been on a rationale that relates to population, and this has led to ongoing debate about the extent of Māori rights.
Amendments to the Local Electoral Act 2001 provided all councils with the opportunity to establish Māori wards and constituencies. These provisions occurred alongside the enactment of the Local Government Act 2002.
But some phrasing in the Local Government Act 2002 has produced some confusion, says Maria.
“The distinction made between the ‘crown’ and ‘local government’ obfuscates the reality that local government has been devolved powers and responsibilities by central government and, like central government, therefore holds obligations under the treaty,” she writes.
“Some local government councillors and central government politicians do not interpret the treaty reference in the preamble to the Local Government Act in the same way, however.
“They suggest that the reference implies that central government, even more specifically, the crown, holds treaty obligations rather than local government.”
Maria says that in light of this, some Māori see independent boards with a strong emphasis on the role of mana whenua as providing opportunities because these connect councils directly with those iwi in their areas as potential partners.
LOOK TO ROTORUA
Maria notes that while many councils have established Māori advisory boards, the independent boards created in Auckland and Rotorua were the products of entirely different circumstances and have set up a new and distinct focus on mana whenua representation.
In Rotorua, for example, the Rotorua District Council approved in principle in late 2014 the creation of the Te Arawa Partnership Board / Te Tatau o Te Arawa. The rationale was firmly based around the rights of Te Arawa as mana whenua and the obligations on the council to include mana whenua in decision-making.
The final agreement to go ahead was signed a year later in December 2015.
The board has 14 members: one seat for koeke (an elder); six seats for Te Arawa hapu; two seats for Ngāti Whakaue; two seats to represent Māori Land Trust and Incorporations in the area; one seat for a pan-Te Arawa entity; and two seats for rangatahi (youth).
The Rotorua District Council has agreed to pay $250,000 annually towards the costs of the board and $290,000 in election years.
The Te Arawa Lakes Trust (formed after the Te Arawa Lakes Settlement 2006) was asked to provide its database of members as an initial Te Arawa electoral roll.
Maria says that of all databases held by pan-Te Arawa organisations, the Te Arawa Lakes Trust database is considered to hold the largest number of Te Arawa people and to have the most reliable contact information.
She says that enabling Te Arawa members to vote directly for the board representatives may have implications for the level of interest that these members are likely to show in voting for the Partnership Board.
“If Te Arawa members have already taken the step to register themselves with the Te Arawa Lakes Trust, they have indicated to a certain extent willingness and interest in being involved in local resource and governance matters.”
She adds that questions still remain, however, about Te Arawa members that are not registered with the trust and what avenues are available for them to be engaged.
From the board of 14 members, two representatives are nominated to each of two key committees on the Rotorua District Council: the strategy, policy and finance committee, and the operations and monitoring committee.
The representatives have voting rights on these committees. However, the powers of these two committees were changed during debates on the Te Arawa Partnership model so that they no longer make decisions, but rather just recommendations to the full council.
The partnership model also allows for one Te Arawa representative to be nominated to act as one commissioner of three on statutory hearing panels for resource consents and for one Te Arawa representative to be nominated to working groups and steering committees as required.
Maria says that, at this stage, the Te Arawa Partnership Board does not include mātaawaka representation.
“But it has indicated that it will in the future. The exact rationale for not including mātaawaka at the beginning is unclear, as is the rationale for including them in the future.”
A MANA WHENUA APPROACH
Acknowledging the rights of mana whenua in particular regions is a fundamental feature of Māori law and Māori political organisation.
To maintain their territorial authority, mana whenua needed to live on – and stay in control of – their lands. Those who lived on the land held their tenure through ahi kaa (keeping the fires of occupation burning), and were acknowledged to have a greater right to decision-making authority than those tribal members who moved away to other regions.
In the current context, where many Māori live away from their traditional lands, iwi are enacting their mana whenua rights in a variety of ways and each is responding differently to the social, political and geographical situations of their tribal members.
When it comes to voting, however, many iwi organisations continue to require representatives to either be resident in a particular area or nominated by a hapu that is based in the traditional area.
According to Maria, the results of the Te Arawa Partnership Board’s inaugural elections provide a number of insights and important implications.
ElectioNZ carried out the election and Maria was given access to data with permission from the Te Arawa Lakes Trust.
She says the results of the first election suggest many Te Arawa living outside the area have an interest in the Partnership Board. They also indicate possible emerging trends in the method of voting.
A total of 2839 people voted out of a list of 11,153. The total population of Te Arawa is 43,377. The 2015 election allowed for all of those on the Te Arawa Lakes Trust membership database to vote – no matter where they lived at the time they voted. Votes therefore came from around the country.
The majority of votes still came from the Bay of Plenty area, followed by Auckland and the Waikato region.
A significant 817 votes (28.7 percent) came from those living outside the Bay of Plenty area.
“Having nearly a third of all votes coming from outside the region suggests that Te Arawa members who are outside the Bay of Plenty remain connected with, and interested in, Te Arawa matters,” says Maria.
“It may also indicate that a dedicated representative for those living outside the region should be considered in future for the Trust or the Board to reflect the lived realities of Te Arawa members.”
Specific attention should be paid to the number of people who voted from overseas, which constituted 2.78 percent of all votes.
Maria says this may not appear significant. “But given that the election is for trustees who have a specific focus on activities in the Rotorua area, it indicates that although members are overseas, they do continue to remain interested in the area and iwi.”
Maria suggests it may be possible to make tentative comparisons with Māori voting from overseas in general elections.
She says research by Paul Hamer indicates that since 1996 there has been a 200.6 percent rise in the total number of valid overseas party votes from those on the Māori electoral roll.
“In 1996, there was 1.6 percent of such votes, and in the 2014 election, 3.6 percent.”
Maria says the exact reasons for the increase in votes from Māori overseas on the Māori electoral roll are unclear but may present a trend that should be considered in regard to the Te Arawa elections and for other iwi considering independent boards.
Maria says that if mātaawaka were incorporated into the Te Arawa Partnership Board in future, their voting behaviour could also provide insights into where their interests might lie and therefore appropriate mechanisms for ensuring their participation and representation.
As Maria sees it, the broader question is what similarities or patterns might there be for Māori voting in Māori wards and constituencies compared with Māori voting for independent boards? And what form of guaranteed representation do Māori electorates prefer?
- Maria Bargh (Te Arawa, Ngāti Awa) is head of school and senior lecturer in Māori Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. Her research is in the area of Māori politics, resource management and economics. Maria.Bargh@vuw.ac.nz
This article was first published in the May 2017 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.