Regional | Te Tai Rāwhiti

Gisborne councillor firm on importance of Māori wards

Māori ward councillor Nick Tupara. Photo / Supplied/Gisborne District Council

A Māori ward representative says they have to prove worth, value, and competence every time they come to the table.

The comment came in defence of Māori ward councillor Nick Tupara, who was criticised for “poor attendance”, during a Gisborne District Council meeting last week.

Tupara attended 87 percent of meetings and workshops in the 12 months after being elected, according to council records.

Last week, councillor Larry Foster said he had a “bit of a problem” with Tupara after he was absent from a meeting.

Tupara spoke about the importance of Māori wards at the start of an extraordinary council meeting this week, a carryover from last week’s meeting.

Any thought that he might voluntarily step down during this point at council was truly exaggerated, he said.

“I intend to stay, and lend a shoulder to the whole of council for the betterment and advancement of our community.

“Our Māori wards enrich the whāriki of local governance, ensuring that iwi Māori hapū and whānau voices are heard and considered in shaping their rohe,” he said.

When Tupara finished speaking, councillor Aubrey Ria stood and sang a karakia with him.

Māori ward councillor Rawinia Parata said the wards were proving their worth, value and competence every time they came to the table.

“My own circumstances are that my children are now five and three years old. My youngest has just started sleeping through the night. I am actively in the thick of raising my family, juggling my career, and representing my region as an elected member and living in Ruatōria,” she said.

Gisborne District councillors Photo / Supplied / Gisborne District Council

The Gisborne district councillors. Photo: Supplied/Gisborne District Council

It is a two-hour drive to the city from Parata’s home, and sometimes she takes this drive up to two or three times a week.

“The drive reminds me of what’s at stake, of the dire need for equity, and for the lives of whānau. I have four hours to really think about it.”

When asked about the possible reasons for lower attendance, Andy Cranston said he had noticed it was often the younger councillors who left prematurely.

“The reality is that the role is often enabled through age and stage reality. The required commitment lacks true regularity and hence the holding down of another role and pursuing an alternative career is usually very limited.”

He said the remuneration for the role was fair but not enough for a primary income, “hence most will need other income”.

Debbie Gregory said it was difficult to juggle other work and life as a councillor.

“For me, I am committed to this job so I give it the highest priority.”

Councillor Tony Robinson said he could not comment on other councillors’ workloads or personal commitments.

However, “it is crucial that councillors are available to listen to our communities, prepare thoroughly for our meetings and contribute in a positive and respectful manner”.

Māori ward councillor Aubrey Ria - who is a mother and works full time as well as being a councillor - had an attendance rate of 70 percent.

In addition to having Covid twice in the past 12 months, she had two operations, one of which was heart surgery.

Parata said Ria had called the Māori caucus from her hospital bed after her heart operation to tell them important points she thought needed to be raised at council during her absence.

“We told her to sign off and rest, not something she does willingly. If that isn’t commitment, I don’t know what is.”

Massey University politics professor Dr Richard Shaw told Local Democracy Reporting that Māori wards were a relatively new innovation, and “like most democratic innovations, it takes time for momentum to be generated”.

“I’d imagine, although I have no empirical basis for saying this, that the kinds of people who are going to be prevailed upon by Māori to stand in a Māori ward are likely also to be doing a whole bunch of other work for their hapū, iwi, and whānau in other places,” Shaw said.

“So for me, it would be a question of giving things time and allowing momentum to develop and allowing capacities and capabilities to develop.”

Shaw co-wrote a research article on the establishment of Māori wards in Taranaki. He said Māori wards were a part of a democratic tradition that happened for indigenous voices internationally.

“In New Zealand it is significant to the nature of our constitutional arrangements and Te Tiriti o Waitangi.”

It also enhanced the likelihood of having different voices heard at council tables, he said.

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Local Democracy Reporting