Balancing scales tilted for so long
Our columnist today starts out with the apparent premise that the “scales” of local politics are equal for Maori and Pakeha; they are not.
Maori are only now getting a fair hearing and traction with Gisborne District Council on issues that are important to them, and have yet to achieve representation anything like in line with their share of population. The “tilt” of introducing Maori wards is aimed at balancing the scales; at working towards equality in decision-making and ensuring good collaboration with Maori; at encouraging more engagement with local politics, and a better turnout by Maori at elections.
Our columnist focuses on a risk that it will be harder for a Maori candidate to get elected in a general ward. It shouldn't be; as he rightly also says, voters are good at assessing the quality of candidates — and for most voters, race is not a factor. If Josh Wharehinga, say, were to stand in a general city ward at the next election he would prove our columnist's “cheerful prediction” wrong at the outset.
Of course a candidate for council and the mayoralty can choose to stand in a Maori ward, although it could be a good political tactic to opt for a general ward to show confidence they have the broad appeal required to also win the mayoralty. The flipside of this “broad appeal” issue is another reason for Maori wards — council candidates who champion Maori political rights can find it hard to get elected in majority Pakeha electorates. Fortunately that is not such a big hurdle in our bicultural community.
The wedge between people on the basis of race that our columnist claims will be a consequence of Maori wards is unfortunately already here, and not only apparent but exacerbated by the strident opposition some express to this unanimous decision of our elected representatives.
The unanimity of that decision, overwhelming support for it from tangata whenua submitters and the goodwill of our community at large allows your editor to cheerfully predict that if this does end up going to a referendum, Maori wards will be supported by the majority — and that this and the positive outcomes of it for local politics will be factors in reducing a sad wedge that bedevils our community.
Are positive outcomes certain? Almost, however there will be many factors at play. Remember, it is in effect a pilot in that the decision applies to the next two elections only; also, our rural councillors agreed that the pros outweighed a small risk to the rural ward structure.