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Rattling the Chains - from Mayor Alex Walker

Mayor Alex and Jenny Nelson Smith

Listening. For several years now, this has been at the heart of how your Council operates. Community-led and community-empowered, we are clear that for our district to get ahead we need teamwork, partnerships, allies, neighbours and friends. Hence our mantra, “Together we Thrive”.

Sometimes this teamwork can be challenging. Sometimes we make decisions that not everyone likes or understands. But, always, our decisions are guided by listening to the many and diverse voices that make up our community. Whether it’s raising rates, pool fence inspections, wastewater upgrades, library closures, or changing subdivision rules we have worked hard to respond to the complex issues we face and make decisions that reflect the vision our community has for a prosperous, positive and thriving Central Hawke’s Bay.

For the past two to three months, we have been listening hard about the role of Māori wards to assist representation at the council table. Last week it culminated with nearly three hours of heartfelt kōrero from Māori and Pākehā from right around the district.

Submissions were heard from those that whakapapa to every marae – from Pukehou and Kairakau, to Te Whatuiāpiti, Tapairu, Mataweka, Pourerere, Waipukurau, Te Rongo a Tahu, Rākautātahi and the Ngāti Kere Hapū from Rongomaraeroa in Pōrangahau.

Councils have made many decisions over the years where Māori have not been present, and where Māori have been at the receiving end of rules, changes, confiscations and reorganisations that have failed to deliver the equal rights that our society and system should. The messages to us, as the decision-makers last week, were powerful, emotional, generous, forgiving, angry, sad, inspiring and tired of the fight for recognition. But overall, were full of hope. Full of hope for equity, opportunity, recognition and kotahitanga – moving forward together as one. And importantly, asking us to listen.

Over the last eight weeks, the voice of our mana whenua came together in three ways. There was unanimous support for Māori wards from Te Taiwhenua o Tamatea and a chorus of singular supportive voices from every marae around the district. There was also as a strong message from Ngāti Kere Hapū Authority that question the ability of democracy to provide a representative with clear mana whenua mandate. The kaumātua of Ngāti Kere were strong in their tikanga-based guidance that asked for us to consider the appointment process, through marae-based protocols, that they felt would best ensure the mandate they required for that person or people. But they were also clear that they did not oppose Māori wards and were seeking multiple solutions to ensure the mix of mandate was right. We were listening carefully.

Also joining us in the Council Chambers that morning were Māori who live in Central Hawke’s Bay but whakapapa to other parts of the country and strongly supportive Pākeha voices. Of the one hundred submissions we received through the online survey, 68 percent overall were supportive of the Māori Ward structure while 100 percent of Māori supported the change.

The debate at the council table was strong, and for all of us, deeply personal in many ways.

Councillors Greer, Minehan, Aitken and Muggeridge spoke of their own longstanding ties to the district, their need to represent the views of the people they serve and whom oppose the concept of Māori wards, and their discomfort with a structure that they feel is unnecessary.

On the other hand, Councillors Taylor, Wichman, Burne, Annand and myself spoke of our journeys to listen and learn about Te Tiriti o Waitangi, about equity and opportunity, and about building a strong, united team for Central Hawke’s Bay in the future.

The final vote was 5 “For” and 4 “Against” the establishment of a Māori ward for the 2025 and 2028 local elections. Those elected to new roles via a Māori ward by those on the Māori electoral role, will have a legal vote as part of the council, and will swear the same oath as those elected by the general wards - an oath to act in the best interests for the whole district’s future.

The resolution of council also included a decision to put in place two roles, directly appointed by mana whenua, as soon as possible to reflect the direction from Ngāti Kere and the need for Māori voices at the table sooner than October 2025. The appointed roles will not hold a legal right to vote and will act as advisors and participants in governance discussions with a clear mandate from mana whenua.

These Council resolutions will now be fed into a wider representation review for all parts of the current democratic structures during early 2024. This will include whether we think the current general wards of Ruataniwha and Aramoana/Ruahine are still the best way to reflect the communities of interest in the district, whether we have the right number of elected councillors, and whether we need any additional structures like community boards. Stay tuned for a community conversation about that early next year.

We have many more complex conversations and important decisions about infrastructure, services and regulation ahead of us that will impact the social, environmental, economic and cultural wellbeing of our community. We know there will be different views and we may not always agree, but we remain committed to hearing all voices and working together. E ora ngātahi ana. Together we Thrive.

 Pictured: Mayor Alex Walker with Jenny Nelson-Smith, Chair of Te Taiwhenua o Tamatea.


23 November 2023

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