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Fresh calls for Māori seats at Auckland Council

There are fresh calls for Māori seats at Auckland Council, a decade after the supercity was formed.

Manukau Urban Māori Authority chair Bernie O'Donnell. Source: Local Democracy Reporting

By Jean Bell for rnz.co.nz

It comes as requirement for public polls when creating Māori seats looks like it will be removed.

The Royal Commission that recommended the amalgamation in November 2010 also proposed Māori seats be part of the new council.

While Māori seats in the new supercity were scrapped, an Independent Māori Statutory Board (IMSB) was established to promote issues significant to Māori and ensure the council followed the Treaty of Waitangi.

IMSB chair David Taipari said the supercity formation had led to more engagement with Māori, but it could be improved by having Māori seats.

Taipari said consultation could often come at the tail end of the council's process.

"Māori should be right at the forefront when things are being proposed and how they're developed. I think if that became the norm, there would be number of issues that would be resolved along the way.

"Sometimes Māori are left in a reactive space, and again having to advocate on their inclusion on certain matters. I think it should just be a given where we partner and work together."

The IMSB has nine members, and two members sit on most council committees with voting rights.

Taipari said this helped provide a perspective that was "absolutely lacking, if near nil" when the board was established 10 years ago.

John Tamihere, a former member of the IMSB, was critical of how board members were appointed.

John Tamihere. Source: Q+A

Tamihere wanted Māori seats at the council, so Māori can pick their elected representatives.

He believed urban Māori lose out to mana whenua and have little say in decisions.

"You get first class iwi and mana whenua and you get second class nobodies. A bit of a ugly little class system has arrived ... there is a problem that needs to be resolved in representation."

Tamihere disagreed with David Taipari on the IMSB influence, saying it was a token add-on and had little sway on the council.

Bernie O'Donnell, chair of the Manukau Urban Māori Authority, agreed with the need for change.

He noticed council relationships with mana whenua had improved but urban Māori tended to be forgotten.

"We tend to be the poor cousin," he said.

"I think we're an afterthought [to the council]. Their primary goal is work with mana whenua. I get that, but at the same time, as urban Māori communities have our own needs and we are ratepayers just like everyone else."

Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta is promising to remove a requirement for public polls when councils want to create Māori seats.

In a statement, Mahuta said addressing the issue was a priority but there were legislative processes to work through before changes were made.

Auckland Council was asked about consultation with Māori during council processes, claims that the council prioritises mana whenua over urban Māori, whether the IMSB has influence in council amd whether Māori elected members are needed to help boost representation.

In a statement, Māori strategic outcomes head Simone Andersen said Māori identity and wellbeing was one of the council's key focus.

"Our Māori Outcomes Report for 2019-2020 shows the council group's strong performance in this area. While the impacts of Covid-19 started to be felt during the last financial year, the Māori Outcomes' portfolio of activities remained on track, with projects accelerating and performing well," she said.

"We have developed Kia Ora Tāmaki Makaurau to guide and monitor progress towards delivering on Māori outcomes. During the framework consultation process, Māori identified the outcomes that were important to them. We have aligned these aspirations to our 10 strategic priorities to advance Māori identity and wellbeing in the region.

"As a recent example of our Māori outcomes mahi, the council group took the opportunity to support a Māori-led recovery and response to Covid-19, as we are conscious that the impacts of Covid-19 disproportionately affect Māori.

"During Level 4 lockdown, our Auckland Emergency Management Team created a Māori-focused unit, Te Pouwhakarae, to support local Māori communities during lockdown. The unit worked alongside iwi, hapū, whānau and marae to identify and bridge gaps in the delivery of welfare services.

"Council also bridged the gap between response and recovery by supporting Māori-led Covid-19 recovery and resilience initiatives in the community, which advance Māori wellbeing, employment and business, and sustainable solutions for Māori."