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Maori representation – Democracy in-action?

Maori representation democracy in-action? - Featured Image - Local Government August 2017

Does ‘ticking the Maori box’ make a difference? Kataraina O’Brien and Fiona McTavish are from the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, the first council in the country to set up Maori constituencies. Thirteen years after the first Maori councillors were elected, the council’s model remains an outlier in typical council-iwi relations. Kataraina and Fiona look at what has been learnt and achieved to date.

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council Constituency Empowering Act of 2001 (the Act) was a key catalyst for enhancing Maori representation in council. The Act improved Maori participation and visibility in decision-making processes which some would argue was a radical improvement and others, a diminishing of democracy.
The Act set the foundation for the establishment of three Maori constituencies (often referred to as Maori seats) in the Bay of Plenty region. For the first time since the genesis of local government, people on the Maori roll could chose to vote for Maori candidates from the Bay of Plenty Regional Council (BOPRC). The Local Electoral Act 2002 enables Maori representation through council resolution but is challengeable through a poll of general electors.
The Maori seats came into being at the 2004 local body elections and are currently in their fourth triennium. What have the seats achieved? Do they meet Maori and council expectations and what value do they have? This article will consider the currency of Maori representation and ponder the question of whether ‘ticking the Maori box’ has 
paid dividends.
How enhanced Maori participation happened
Retired Chief Family Court judge Peter Trapski was instrumental in the establishment of three Maori constituencies for the BOPRC. Council and local iwi pushed for Maori to be represented on council and jointly championed a public consultation process which attracted around 300 submissions, the majority of which were in support.
The main thrust of the campaign was to recognise the voice of Maori, especially considering the number of iwi in the region (36) and the high Maori population (a third of the regional population are Maori).
In his 1998 report, judge Trapski determined the parliamentary Maori seats had set a precedent and contended that creating Maori seats in council was in accordance with constitutional principles of law. It was the right thing to do.
The Bay of Plenty Regional Council (Maori Constituency) Empowering Bill was drafted in 1999 and passed in October 2001.
Maori candidates were selected to stand in the local body elections in 2004 and for the first time in history people on the Maori roll could vote for a Maori representative from Mauao (Bay of Plenty West), Kohi (Bay of Plenty East) or Okurei (Bay of Plenty South). The ‘Maori tick box’ finally gave legitimacy to formal Maori representation.
The 2013 census confirms that the number of Maori on the Maori roll for each constituency in the Bay of Plenty is relatively balanced. There is, however, a huge variance between Maori and general seats.
What differences do three Maori councillors make?
BOPRC was the first regional council to establish seats via its discrete empowering legislation. Recently, the Waikato Regional Council followed suit.
Thirteen years have passed since the first Maori councillors were elected onto the BOPRC.
During this time the Maori seats and respective incumbents have been observed, critiqued, studied, researched and judged from near and afar, internally and externally and by Maori and non-Maori alike.
The Maori councillors receive dedicated support through the chief executive, including council investing in Maori policy staff support.
The tenure of Maori councillors has been steady; most of the existing councillors get reinstated following election cycles even though the seats are hotly contested.
The Kohi councillor has successfully held his seat since 2004 and can boast 13 years of service to his constituents and council. This longevity serves to increase the maturity of the role, keep momentum going and institute stability.
Maori seats and Maori councillors assist council in a fairly significant manner to meet its obligations under the Local Government Act 2002. Maori councillors bring to the table a strategic Maori lens which has influenced positive change over the course of their inception.
Maori councillors are players at the decision-making table equally alongside their peers. Deliberations on policies, annual and long-term planning, budgets and strategies have improved Maori discernibility through the involvement of the Maori councillors.
Council’s annual Iwi Management Plan funding, Maori hearing commissioner sponsorship, biennial regional Maori conferences and Maori student internships have all come about since the inception of Maori councillors. This council has also instituted a Maori name for council (Toi Moana) and opted to fly the Maori flag on important occasions.
What difference do councils with Maori councillors make?
BOPRC has been a frontrunner in many initiatives that have made a positive difference for Maori. This council was the first to provide funding for a Maori economic strategy, He Mauri Ohooho, which is about creating jobs and improving incomes for Maori families.
This strategy is governed by a Maori industry leaders governance group which connects with sector-specific strategies in the Bay of Plenty. It has focused on improving governance training for Maori trustees, connecting youth with industry and establishing Maori industry clusters supporting growth in these industries.
This council was also the first to fund large infrastructure projects that create jobs in the Bay of Plenty. For example, funding of the Tauranga tertiary campus was about improving tertiary education outcomes in the bay area. A key factor in this decision was council recognising that there is a need to improve the success of Maori tertiary students to create jobs and prosperity for Maori.
In addition, Te Komiti Maori, the Maori Standing Committee, is a key interface which connects councillors to iwi / Maori through meetings on marae across the Bay of Plenty region.
Komiti Maori – up close and personal
Komiti Maori is a decision-making committee of council. Its terms of reference empower the committee to make relevant recommendations and decisions to ensure council’s compliance and responsiveness to Maori.
The core committee comprises the three Maori councillors, three general councillors and the regional council chair as an ex-officio member. The Maori councillors share the chair role for meetings allowing each to chair meetings in their respective Maori constituency.
Roving meetings held on marae across the region recognise the uniqueness of marae as symbolic community focal points where tikanga (protocols), Te Reo (language) and Te Ao Maori (Maori world view) are freely expressed. Meeting standing orders are flexed to accommodate public interaction on agenda items and presentations from 
tangata whenua.
This model of taking the meetings out to the community has been in place for over a decade. Marae communities have hosted council on over 40 occasions, thereby enriching relationships. Creating opportunities to hear directly from the public assists politicians in making informed decisions.
The presence of the regional council chair and general councillors is strategic and often results in recommendations being expedited through to full council to be ratified, often unopposed.
For example, at the April 2017 meeting, the regional council chair’s recommendation that council budget for an additional full-time equivalent for a second Maori resource consent specialist (Pou Ngaio) through the annual plan, was fully endorsed.
At the same meeting, members recommended two $5000 environmental scholarships be established to commemorate the late Awanuiarangi Black, a former Maori councillor.
What’s on the horizon for Komiti Maori?
Te Komiti Maori is constantly evolving. It has taken years to build its reputation and profile. Maori feel far more comfortable participating in a Maori forum, on a marae and focused on Maori issues and interests. It has a regular following of hapu and iwi practitioners, and promotes its work through a dedicated online e-newsletter sent to around 400 recipients.
Treaty obligations feature frequently in Komiti Maori agendas. At the recent June meeting a full report on the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act applications and their implications was presented to Komiti Maori.
At the same meeting, a focused report on Maori engagement processes was prepared at the request of the Komiti Maori chair. This report resulted in a recommendation to develop a regional council Maori engagement statement to solidify commitment to Maori.
Implementing the Resource Management Reforms will be a challenge for most councils. Te Mana Whakahono a Rohe (iwi participation agreements) provides impetus to enhance working relationships with iwi. With the assistance of Maori councillors, it’s more exciting than daunting.
Maori councillors and Komiti Maori have positively influenced key decisions. Through their presence in council, Maori representation is tangible, it’s focused and it is enduring. Council and iwi showed courage and determination to lift Maori visibility from being passive, to proactive.
Ticking the Maori box does make a difference. The evidence speaks for itself.


The views expressed in this article are from the perspective of the co-authors only.


This article was first published in the August 2017 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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