Calls to scrap 'racist' policy allowing Māori council wards to be blocked gaining momentum

Calls to scrap a “racist” policy allowing Māori council wards to be blocked are gaining momentum as two petitions totalling 11,000 signatures were delivered to Parliament today.

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Two petitions totalling 11,000 signatures were delivered to parliament today. Source: 1 NEWS

Action Station’s Laura O’Connell Rapira said she believes the law is “discriminatory” and “divisive”.

Currently, if a council wishes to establish a Māori ward, the law allows a petition with just five per cent support to trigger a referendum.

“Since the Electoral Act was put in place in 2002, 10 different councils have tried to establish Māori wards and nine of those councils have been blocked, and so we know this law blocks Māori representation at the local Government level," O’Connell Rapira said.

The law only pertains to Māori wards, rather than general or rural wards.

“It is a racist policy at the present time and it needs to be eliminated,” Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon said.

Of the 78 councils across the country, just three have Māori wards. A further eight councils recently voted to follow suit, dependent on any challenges which may be raised.

“It is a Tiriti right, it is an indigenous right,” Foon said.

Referendums also come at a cost of around $200,000 to $300,000, which is ultimately paid for by the ratepayers.

“Ultimately, the councils pay for that so if a council is paying for that, it's the ratepayers,” Local Government New Zealand's Bonita Bigham said.

While local councils are backing a law change, not everyone agrees with the move.

"I just think that people need to start focusing on our common humanity, not constantly looking for divisions in our identity," ACT Party leader David Seymour said. 

Today’s petition comes as Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta is set to take a paper to Cabinet outlining options to address the issue.

“I agree that there should be Māori wards on council and I've long said that,” Mahuta said.

A decision on the law change will be expected next year.