Legitimacy in retrospect? No thanks
by Clive Bibby
Gisborne District Council’s submission to the Government select committee considering a bill to outlaw citizens’ rights to force a poll over the introduction of Maori wards is a disturbing document and one that should have every ratepayer concerned by the misrepresentation that is included on our behalf.
Let me highlight some of the deliberately inaccurate statements presented as fact. Unfortunately, column space limits my ability to quote directly from the published document, so l will have to rely on readers following my references to the original text.
Item (paragraph) 8 refers to the council being aware of a “petition (initiated from outside the Tairawhiti) seeking to force a poll . . . despite community support in favour of establishing Maori wards”. Clearly, the intention of this statement is to smear the activities of those involved with exercising their democratic rights and by so doing, question the legitimacy of any subsequent poll.
It might not have been so bad had the council come clean with the number of wards they had in mind if the matter came to a vote. Instead, they offered a range of options between one and five. This alone may have been a serious influential factor in deciding whether individuals supported or opposed the introduction of Maori wards.
Personally, l believe the vote to support may well have triumphed if it had been for only one or possibly no more than two wards. I also believe that the voters would have overwhelmingly rejected a proposal that ensured Maori would have no trouble gaining a majority on just about every issue you care to name — which will be the case now that it appears the final outcome will probably include five guaranteed Maori wards in a council of 13 councillors (same as present). Do the sums!
I note that many other councils throughout the country, following the passing of this legislation, are recognising the level of ratepayer disapproval — where a vote had occurred — by playing safe and limiting the introduction to only a couple of wards. We could have and should have done the same here.
The council should also have been more honest about its use of the words “unanimous support “ in clause 10. The claim that it had unanimous support wasn’t even true using its own figures based on the submissions received — at best 70 percent, hardly unanimous. And the other claim that the decision in council had unanimous support is also debated by subsequent revelations as to how the vote was taken; more than one councillor who attended that meeting has voiced concerns to me that it was far from being so.
In the end, democracy is the loser — which means the ability of you and l ordinary citizens who religiously pay our rates, yet will in future have virtually no say in how we are governed
. . . except perhaps to exercise those legitimate rights casting our ballots at the very next time we have the opportunity to do so.
I’m normally not in to making predictions because on most issues, my guess is only as good as the next person. But in this instance l am reasonably confident that the next election (whether local body or a general election) will be another single issue one — like the Covid one last time.
Next time, it will be a report card on politicians’ handling of the “Maori wards issue”.
At least in this region, it is likely that the public will be keen to reassert their authority.
That means a nervous wait for those who have abused the power we have entrusted in them.