There have been allegations that the decision is racist and that it will throw out the balance of fair community representation. One correspondent – a former Councillor – going so far as to allege that this will open the process of local government to corruption.
Further alleging that iwi co-operation in the past has only come after tribal leadership has been paid a “quid pro quo.” The latter allegation is concerning, and the writer needs to front up with details and evidence if this is indeed the case. However, in my view TCDC is moving with the times as an increasing number of other local body entities establish Maori Wards. Our “other” Council, the Waikato Regional Council, has had Maori wards since 2013 while neighbouring Bay of Plenty Regional Council has had them since 2001. I am yet to see allegations of corruption or graft against those two Council. In short, the sky has not fallen on chicken likken’s head as a result of having Maori wards. Quite the contrary.
The first thing to say is that such decisions are not, in my view, racist. What they do is address an inequality in representation and a voice on issues that might require appropriate or specialist knowledge. For example; for best advice we might look to a Councillor with a farming background to speak to Council issues involving farming. Or for someone with a fisheries background to inform us of marine issues in the Firth of Thames and around our coastline. So why not a Maori voice to speak to Maori issues?
The establishment of Maori wards addresses and provides for:
• The special relationship that Māori have with all aspects of government – including local government – as guaranteed in Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
• The over representation of Māori in negative socio-economic measures in key statistics involving housing, crime, imprisonment, health, well-being, and other common measures.
• Taking an active role and a direct responsibility for improvement in those areas.
• The benefits to the wider community of Thames-Coromandel if improvement was achieved in such areas.
• The history of ongoing disparity that has resulted through not having Māori at the decision making table.
• The positive impact and experience that can come from having direct Māori input into Council committees.
• The opportunity to enhance understanding and decision making directly at the table.
• That a Māori voice cannot be replicated by non-Māori no matter how well intentioned or well expressed.
The inequity that has been developed over time as the population has expanded making Māori a minority.
• Embodied by the fact that, as far as I know, there has been no Māori representation at the Council decision making table.
I am sure TCDC staff would have brought these and other matters to the attention of the Mayor and Councillors as part of their considerations and I would like to thank them for having the courage to take this great step forward. Mihi atu ki nga mema o te Kaunihera.