The Human Rights Commission strongly supports the proposed changes to local government legislation aimed at removing discriminatory barriers for Māori.
“The changes are a positive step towards strengthening tangata whenua representation and participation in decision-making in line with Te Tiriti o Waitangi and international human rights standards,” Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon said.
The Māori Affairs Select Committee released its report on the 15th of February recommending that the Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Constituencies) Amendment Bill be passed.
The Race Relations Commissioner welcomed the move.
“The law change will remove discriminatory provisions and take positive steps towards upholding Te Tiriti o Waitangi and human rights in local government.”
The Bill repeals sections of the Local Electoral Act that allow council decisions to adopt Māori wards to be overturned through community-initiated referendum. The provisions apply only to Māori wards or constituencies – other types of wards aren’t subject to the same restrictions.
“The effect of this discrimination has been to stifle efforts by councils to introduce Māori wards in almost all cases.”
“Without Tangata Whenua at council level it is harder for their voices to be heard, and for councils and Māori to contribute together to the wellbeing of the whole community.”
“The current process is unfair. In most cases Māori wards are rejected by the larger non-Māori population through a local referendum.”
The Commission is calling for the Bill to go further. Its submission calls for more work to ensure that local Iwi and Hapū have a strong voice in council decision-making while exercising their rangatiratanga and indigenous rights in relation to their territories.
These are rights recognised in both Te Tiriti o Waitangi and in international human rights, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The Commission would like to see local authorities required to work with Iwi and Hapū to ensure the participation of Tangata Whenua in council decision-making, explicit inclusion of Te Tiriti in the Bill’s guiding principles and the use of urgency limited to exceptional circumstances.