Mood swing favours Ma¯ori wards in city
OPINION: Palmerston North City Council’s decision to set up Ma¯ori wards to guarantee Ma¯ori seats at the council election has been called courageous.
The description comes from former New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd, who was distraught by the anger and opposition the proposal provoked two years ago in Taranaki.
Palmerston North mayor Grant Smith has described it as ‘‘brave enough’’.
And it was interesting that the councillors went against the weight of numbers in reaching their decision, having read submissions that were two-thirds opposed and one third in favour.
So here’s a little more background on how they explained themselves.
Firstly, there is a group of immigrants on our council, who had little trouble getting themselves elected in city-wide elections with no wards, and who seemed almost bewildered that there was need for debate.
They include Rachel Bowen, Brent Barrett and Lorna Johnson.
Bowen said what made up her mind was Ma¯ori telling the council it was what they wanted.
‘‘This is not a perfect solution. There are ways we could finesse this, but these are the tools we have before us.’’
Barrett said he firmly supported the proposal.
‘‘It is natural and necessary to have Ma¯ori representation with a vote, not just a voice.’’
Johnson said she had read all of the submissions twice and was convinced it was the way to go to ensure Ma¯ori representation 20 years since the last Ma¯ori sat at the council table.
‘‘We may be very well meaning as councillors and think we can represent Ma¯ori views, but we cannot do that.’’
So what do we know about those who opposed the move?
Bruno Petrenas and Adrian Broad did not elaborate.
Karen Naylor’s explanation of her stand on ‘‘a very challenging issue’’ appeared twofold.
‘‘Based on the current feedback, I have a question mark about whether our community is ready for us to take this step.’’
She said she had made a commitment to listen to what the community was saying, whether she agreed or not.
She also queried whether it was the best or only way for the council to better engage with Ma¯ori.
Leonie Hapeta, whose husband is Ma¯ori, said she had not slept well coming to her decision to go with the bulk of submissions and vote against the move.
‘‘I really want to see Rangita¯ne around the council table, but I’m not sure I want aMa¯ori ward.’’
Then there were those who had changed their minds since the last time a vote was taken six years ago.
Jim Jefferies gave some of the credit to his grandchildren, who he said had a better understanding of New Zealand’s history and heritage than he did.
The balance of his reasoning was about having had more contact with Ma¯ori people than in the past and being able to learn, ‘‘even at my age’’. Vaughan Dennison is a puzzle. He has aMa¯ori wife, his children have been educated in Ma¯ori immersion schools and he does have some Ma¯ori heritage himself.
But until now, he has voted against Ma¯ori wards.
‘‘There have been opposing voices. I have heard those and have shared those views in the past.’’
But he said the time had come to take action to do something about the disadvantages Ma¯ori endured, which was reflected in statistics on health, poverty and crime, and recognise the value of Ma¯ori culture in making New Zealand’s identity unique.
Lew Findlay said his mind was made up by listening to those who spoke to their submissions, with the majority of those who attended to talk to councillors supporting the change.
The clincher was Wiremu Te Awe Awe pointing to the council’s own coat of arms, clearly representing two people, and asking: ‘‘Where is the other half’’.
And so the councillors voted, 11-4 in favour of setting up a Ma¯ori ward.
The decision has been advertised and the public informed of their right to gather signatures for a petition calling for a $100,000 poll to potentially overturn the proposal.
If there is no petition, or there is a poll in favour of wards, we would be the first regular city council to guarantee Ma¯ori a seat or seats at the council table.
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