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Multiple Maori wards likely

Editorial

Updated electoral population figures from the Local Government Commission continue the council's guidance last year that if the number of GDC councillors remains at 13, a Maori ward or wards will be represented by five members.

Since the report was prepared that helped inform the council's unanimous decision to introduce Maori wards for the 2022 and 2025 elections, the estimate for the Maori electoral population has risen from 17,562 to 18,900, and the general electoral population from 29,955 to 31,800 — for an estimated district-wide population of 50,700 as at mid-2020. (The estimated Maori-roll population share has lifted from 36.96 to 37.28 percent, for a 4.85 share of 13 council seats, up from 4.80; rounding up to five seats.)

The higher population estimate for the district of 50,700 also adds 700 to the rural population figure used in yesterday's editorial, rising to 12,200 (with 38,500 in the city) — increasing a “rural share” of 13 councillor seats to 3.13, and also making clear there is definitely more than one ward equivalent in the rural Maori electoral population; it would probably be more like 1.5. (The higher district figure also lifts average ward populations to 3900.)

Your editor believes this points towards either one Maori ward for the whole district, or more likely up to five Maori wards.

Distributing the Maori electoral population into, say, five wards will deliver extra benefits in the geographical and tribal communities of interest such ward councillors can represent. This also seems likely to be how Maori would want their new, ensured representation to be structured as it aligns with traditional and continuing iwi politics — although how the numbers fall in making up such wards could see support for this diminish.

Identifying communities of interest is a major factor in determining appropriate ward structures and the consideration of community boards during representation reviews. (NB, your editor doesn't think community boards would be back on the table.)

Kaiti and Elgin-based Maori wards would have compelling representation benefits. Most importantly for our situation, though, having up to five Maori wards would also involve strong rural representation from two of them (where at least one would include some urban residents); and the council would no doubt make the case for two rural general wards — effectively maintaining the existing mix of four rural councillors and nine city councillors, and ensuring two of them are tangata whenua.