Environmental / Resource Management

The Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill

The Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill (the Bill) amends the Local Electoral Act 2001 (the LEA) and brings significant changes for the establishment of Māori wards and constituencies.

Previously, the LEA provided that if a local authority resolved to establish wards or constituencies for electors on the Māori electoral roll, a local referendum (a poll) on that issue must be held if at least 5 percent of the electors of the city, district, or region demanded one. Since the result of a poll would be binding for at least two elections they have proved to be an almost insurmountable barrier to improving Māori representation in local government and, in some cases, a deterrent to local authorities considering establishing Māori wards or Māori constituencies. Since the introduction of Māori wards and constituencies in 2002, of 24 councils that have tried to create Māori wards only three have been successful.

There was no equivalent provision for elector-demanded polls in the process for creating general wards and general constituencies. Therefore, the removal of the poll provision is consistent with the Crown’s obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi.  It aims to strengthen the Māori–Crown relationship at a local level by removing barriers to Māori participation in local elections. To achieve these policy aims, the Bill—

  • repeals the provisions in the LEA that relate to polls on the establishment of Māori wards and Māori constituencies; and

  • prohibits binding council-initiated polls on whether to establish Māori wards or Māori constituencies (while retaining the right of councils to initiate non-binding polls to gauge public sentiment); and

  • establishes a transition period ending on 21 May 2021 during which any local authority may, regardless of any previous decisions or previous poll outcomes, resolve to establish Māori wards or Māori constituencies for the 2022 local elections.

Essentially, the Bill means that local polls prompted by a request from only 5 percent of electors can no longer lead to a poll that overturns a local authority decision to introduce Māori wards or Māori constituencies.

The Bill came into force on 2 March 2021. 

A copy of the Bill is available here.

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