By Linda O’Reilly, Tompkins Wake
It is election time, so naturally I will talk about elections; just not the one coming up in October. The Minister of Local Government does not hang about.
As heralded when she introduced the Local Electoral (Maori Wards and Maori Constituencies) Amendment Act 2021 abolishing the right to demand a poll on the establishment of Maori wards and Maori constituencies, further amendment is proposed to the Local Electoral Act 2001.
While the 2021 Act gave local authorities the opportunity to establish an unprecedented number of new Maori wards and constituencies in time for this year’s elections, there remained no requirement for councils to consider Maori wards, or constituencies as an option if they did not choose to do so.
The new provisions are to be inserted in the Local Electoral Act by the Local Government Electoral Legislation Bill. It will require councils that have not had Maori wards or constituencies in the previous two triennial elections and enables councils that have had such constituencies in the two previous elections, to determine whether the council should include ‘specific Maori representation’.
Specific Maori representation is a new term introduced into the Act meaning one or more members of the council elected only by electors on the parliamentary roll for a Maori electoral district. Before determining whether representation arrangements should include specific Maori representation councils must engage with and have regard to the views of Maori and other communities of interest on that issue.
This determination must be made no later than 20 December in a year that is two years before the next triennial general election and before the review of representation arrangements. The review of representation requirements must give effect to any resolutions for specific Maori representation, and the timeframe for the resolutions resulting from such reviews is also amended.
To be clear, there is no requirement to create Maori wards or constituencies, only a requirement that they be considered ahead of a review of representation arrangements.
The Bill also addresses a raft of issues arising from recommendations following reviews of the last two triennial local government elections, which should be welcomed by councils.
The review of representation requirements will be extended in the case of unitary authorities to include a review of local board boundaries.
Alternatively the establishment or reorganisation of local boards can be undertaken by way of a simplified reorganisation process specifically for that purpose set out in a new Schedule 3A to be inserted into the Local Government Act 2002.
As an advisor to a council that had a draw in the election of one of its members in the last election, and observing the distress and difficulties this caused, I am pleased to see that this process is to be amended.
In the event of an equality of votes the electoral officer will be required to apply to a District Court Judge for a recount before the official results are declared. This avoids the unfortunate possibility of a candidate winning on the drawing of lots, being sworn in, and subsequently losing office on a recount, as happened in the case I was involved with.
Where there remains an equality of votes after a recount an affected candidate will have the option of withdrawing, which may be preferable for some candidates to having the election determined by drawing a lot.
There is also an amendment to the Local Government Act to the effect that the first meeting of a council shall not be called until after any recount has been completed and the candidates declared elected are known. An urgent meeting can be called in the interim period, if necessary, without the participation of the affected candidates.
In addition to consequential amendments to the Local Government Act the Bill provides for the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009 to be amended to extend the current limit of 20 elected members to 29. This will allow provision to be made for specific Maori representation and ensure consistency with other large councils.
The Bill is a sensible amalgam of the aspirational and pragmatic. It forces councils to address the area of Maori representation without compelling them to adopt Maori wards or constituencies, and it plugs a few holes in the Act.
That is what sensible legislation looks like.