Labor support wanes as Rotorua election bill ‘falls foul’ of Bill of Rights

Under the plan proposed by the Rotorua Lakes Council, the number of elected Maori Ward Members and Headquarters Members would not be commensurate with their respective populations, the Attorney General has said (file photo).

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Under the plan proposed by the Rotorua Lakes Council, the number of elected Maori Ward Members and Headquarters Members would not be commensurate with their respective populations, the Attorney General has said (file photo).

Labor support for Rotorua Council’s bill to change the district’s election rules could flounder, after the attorney general found it did not comply with the Bill of Rights Act.

However, Waiariki MP Rawiri Waititi said he supported the “brave and progressive” bill and wanted to make it easier for Maori to change voter rolls.

A public law expert says he doesn’t believe the bill will pass in time for the 2022 local elections.

Last week, Attorney General David Parker’s report on the Rotorua District Council (Representation Provisions) Bill – currently before the Maori Affairs Select Committee – concluded that the bill discriminates against headquarters voters.

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Parker’s report said the bill would “lead to a disparity in representation between Maori quarter and headquarters” and “discriminate against voters on the General List”.

He said the number of elected Maori members of the ward and headquarters members would not be commensurate with their respective Maori and general populations. There are 21,700 people on the Maori list and 55,600 on the general list in Rotorua district.

On Tuesday, replacing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Finance Minister Grant Robertson told RNZ’s Morning Report that he had acknowledged the bill was “in breach” of the Bill of Rights Act.

He said it was customary to vote in favor of a local bill at first reading in order to examine it in more detail.

Robertson said the bill had “significant issues that … would make it difficult to support.”

The bill is

ANDREW WARNER/Rotorua Daily Post/LDR

The bill is “brave and progressive”, says Rawiri Waititi, co-leader of Te Pā ti Māori MP for Waiariki, and he supports it.

On Tuesday, Local Democracy Reporting asked Robertson if his comments meant he wouldn’t support it at second reading and if he thought the bill’s issues could be resolved in select committee.

Robertson said that because it was a local bill, the changes were requested by the council, not the government.

He said the board and select committee should “consider the implications of the Bill of Rights analysis.”

The bill must be passed by June 1 to be enacted in time for the 2022 local elections.

Te Pāti Māori co-leader and Waiariki MP Rawiri Waititi said he found it “ironic” that Parker had the “caucasity” to call the bill discriminatory.

Caucacity is a slang term combining “Caucasian” and “boldness”.

Waititi said the bill gave equal representation to tangata whenua and tangata Tiriti.

“He and his like-minded mates wouldn’t experience discrimination if they came across it. He has absolute nerve.

“Pākehā should avoid using the term ‘discrimination’, especially when referring to Maori seeking equal representation in their own country.”

The bill is not dead in the water, says Rotorua-based <a class=Labor MP Tāmati Coffey, who sponsored it.” style=”width:100%;display:inline-block”/>

ANDREW WARNER/ROTORUA DAILY POST/LDR

The bill is not dead in the water, says Rotorua-based Labor MP Tāmati Coffey, who sponsored it.

Waititi said he believed the rules limiting the Maori electoral option to every five to six years were discriminatory and had a private member’s bill to change it.

“The Rotorua Election Bill is brave and progressive. It is an exciting opportunity for our country to learn from Te Arawa. This is the kind of equal governance our tīpuna signed when they gave their consent to the coming of Pākehā This is what is promised in article three of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the Fenton agreement of Rotorua.

Parker declined to comment in response.

Public law expert and lawyer Graeme Edgeler said he viewed the bill as “totally unnecessary” because three seats were already achievable under current law.

In his opinion: “The goal is not to ensure Maori representation on the council, it is to reduce non-Maori representation on the council.

“The current law allows for fair representation.”

He said that following the attorney general’s report, the bill was “unlikely to pass in its current form”.

He thought parliament would struggle to pass the bill before the June 1 deadline because of the upcoming budget.

“It’s not happening in May.”

While the bill is before the select committee, Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick said she

ANDREW WARNER/ROTORUA DAILY POST/LDR

While the bill is before the select committee, Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick said she “will not be responding to individual commenters”.

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick said she looked forward to continuing to work on the bill with government officials.

“While the bill goes through the select committee process, I will not be responding to individual commenters.”

The bill’s sponsor, Tāmati Coffey, said the bill was “not dead in the water”.

He said the attorney general’s report made it clear that more information might be needed to determine whether the bill complied with the Bill of Rights.

When asked if he continues to support the bill, Coffey said he has “support for the council to handle this bill as a local bill” and he hopes the council would work with the Department of Justice to “fill in the gaps” in information.

He said it was “not uncommon” for a bill to fail a Bill of Rights veteran, and it was possible it was “worked out.”

Coffey said there was “never certainty” the bill would pass before June 1.

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