Kaipara mayor wants Māori ward gone before next local elections

Kaipara mayor Craig Jepson wants his council’s Māori ward gone before next year’s local government election.

Local Government Minister Simeon Brown this month signalled changes to Māori wards, which would require a referendum for their establishment.

Meanwhile, councils with Māori wards - such as Kaipara - which have previously set up a Māori ward without a referendum, will need to do so at the next local government election in October 2025.

The legislation supporting the changes is expected to be in place by July.

Jepson said Kaipara District Council (KDC) voting should be about having one person one vote, rather than special council wards based on race, gender or any other aspect

Binding polls have typically resulted in potential Māori wards being thrown out.

Jepson was elected to office in October 2022. KDC’s first Te Moananui o Kaipara Māori Ward with a single ward councillor began at the same time.

In late 2020, he campaigned for a public poll on KDC’s decision to establish a Māori ward for Kaipara, presenting a petition from 8.8% of registered electors calling for this to be taken up with council.

However, then-local government minister Nanaia Mahuta in early 2021 spearheaded legislation that vetoed communities being able to force a binding poll if supported by more than 5% of registered electors.

Jepson said he had no issue with Māori being part of the local government political representation landscape, but that should be part of the council’s wider election process.

People should be elected on merit, rather than having special wards based on race, gender or any other aspect, he said.

The government changes signalled this month allow for KDC to reverse its Māori ward decision ahead of the 2025 elections, by a whole-of-council vote.

Te Moananui o Kaipara Māori Ward councillor Pera Paniora (Te Roroa, Ngati Whatua, Te Kuihi) said Jepson’s position was unsurprising.

“It’s consistent with his approach to things across the board,” Paniora said.

Paniora expected KDC would decide to remove the Māori ward before the October 2025 elections. Under this option a representation review must then be held with those elections.

KDC’s likely move in getting rid of its Māori ward was but a bump in the road for this type of representation, which would eventually return to KDC, Paniora said.

Elected politicians came and went and there would in time be new people at the helm, Paniora said.

Paniora would not comment on whether she would stand at the next elections if KDC’s Māori ward was scrapped.

Canning KDC’s Māori ward before the 2025 elections would mean electors have to vote on the council’s previous representation arrangements.

That could have significant ramifications, as following its 2021 representation review, the overall number of KDC council politicians increased by one to 10 due to population growth, largely in Mangawhai where Jepson and several other councillors live. Ward boundaries were also changed.

Paniora said she was proud to be KDC’s first Māori ward councillor, giving a voice for Māori that had never been at the council table previously.

Former New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd said a Kaipara move to reverse its Māori ward before next year’s local elections would “a return to the attitude of yesterday”.

Judd visited Northland in 2020 to speak in favour of Māori wards.

He said proposed Government changes around polling immediately reinstated division.

Polling had typically meant that communities voted against the introduction of a Māori ward, particularly in districts where Māori were a minority population group.

Judd said a large number of councils, freed from potential binding polls after the 2021 legislation change, had brought in Māori wards in the 2022 local elections.

Judd was at the helm when New Plymouth District Council in 2015 voted for a Māori ward. But local voters demanded a poll that overturned the council decision with an 83% voting majority, in what was a highly divisive community response at the time.

He did not stand for re-election in 2016 as a result.

- Local Democracy Reporting

- Stuff