The Waitangi Tribunal has released its report on the Crown’s proposed amendments to the Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Act 2021.

Under the Local Electoral Act, a binding local referendum was required to be held following a council’s decision to establish a Māori ward or constituency. This requirement was removed by the 2021 Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Act. Since this amendment, Māori representation in local government has increased significantly.

Following the October 2023 election, the New Zealand National Party, New Zealand First Party, and ACT New Zealand Party entered into coalition agreements which included a commitment to reinstate the requirement for binding polls. Local bodies would also be required to hold a poll at the 2025 local elections on any Māori wards that had been established without a binding poll.

An application for an urgent inquiry into this proposed amendment was subsequently filed in the Waitangi Tribunal.

The recently released Tribunal report addresses whether the actions of the Government to amend the 2021 Amendment Act relating to Māori wards breaches the Treaty of Waitangi.

The Tribunal found clear breaches of te Tiriti, including:

  • The Government’s prioritisation of its coalition commitments over its obligations to Māori breached the duty of active protection and the principle of partnership.
  • Crown officials provided only limited advice regarding the Crown’s Treaty obligations, in breach of the duty to act in good faith.
  • There had been no consultation with Māori or other key stakeholders, in breach of the principle of partnership and the duty to consult.
  • The removal of the option for Māori voters to choose whether to be represented by general or Māori wards councillors breached the principle of options.
  • Reinstating provisions that would require binding polls only in respect of Māori wards and not general or rural wards breached the principle of equity.
  • Whole communities have benefitted because of the improved relationships between Māori and councils; therefore, the amendment would also breach of the principle of mutual benefit.

Overall, the Tribunal found that these Treaty breaches would result in significant prejudice to Māori.

The Tribunal recommended that the Crown stop the proposed amendments to enable proper consultation as to how Māori can exercise their tino rangatiratanga at a local level.

The Tribunal noted that broader constitutional issues relating to Māori representation in local government will be considered in the Tomokia Ngā Tatau o Mātangireia – Constitutional Kaupapa Inquiry.

You can read more about the report here.