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Full representation rethink under way

Editorial

It is important for residents who are interested in our representation arrangements to realise that the review under way could lead to major changes over and above the introduction of Maori wards, and several options are on the table.

The fact we will have Maori wards for the 2022 and 2025 elections is the big known change. With an estimated Maori electoral population of 18,930, or 37.3 percent of a total electoral population of 50,740, about a third or slightly more of our councillors will be elected by people registered on the Maori roll.

Another known change is that our geographic ward structure and its boundaries will need to be adjusted due to the splitting of Maori and general electoral populations. Ward boundaries would need to be different for Maori and general based on where populations and communities of interest are, and could be thrown out in favour of “voting at large” across the district, or a mix of this for one electoral group and wards for the other.

It is noteworthy that our existing East Coast ward boundaries had become non-compliant population-wise, based on the “+/- 10 percent fair representation rule” — with Matakaoa-Waiapu having a -21.55 percent deviation from the average population per councillor, and Tawhiti-Uawa -12.9 percent. The Local Government Commission allowed an exemption two years ago “due to significant isolation factors”.

If we were to switch to voting at large, community boards would no doubt be introduced to allow representation opportunities for defined communities of interest; hence they are also being discussed in the consultation process.

(They weren’t during the last review, but became part of the representation proposal submitted after councillors decided at the last stage to opt for voting at large; the commission determined that the introduction of community boards required extensive consultation, and a ward system would continue to be the best way to provide effective representation for our rural areas.)

Councillor numbers could also change, with the Tairawhiti Representation Review survey providing options from 15 to nine. In reality, the lower end should not be there. The council’s last proposal was for nine councillors and the commission said this was too few for the responsibilities of a unitary authority, concluding that “effective representation is provided by the current number of 13 councillors”.

The survey closes at 8am on Monday, June 21 and can be found at: gdc.govt.nz