Mon, Apr 8, 2024 10:41 AM

Marlborough’s Māori ward councillor in ‘shock’ at proposal


Maia Hart

Marlborough’s Māori ward councillor was in “shock” and “disbelief” when she heard of a possible U-turn of the newly formed seat she sits on at the council.

Allanah Burgess (Te Ātiawa, Ngāi Tahu) was in a break at a wānanga (gathering) in Christchurch when someone asked her how she was feeling about the announcement.

Burgess hadn’t checked her phone and had no idea what the announcement was about.

Local Government Minister Simeon Brown announced last Thursday all councils that brought in Māori wards without a referendum would need to hold one, or disestablish the ward they set up altogether.

“The way that the current Government are going about all of this is completely undermining not only the voices of our Māori community ... but also local government in general,” Burgess said.

“I hope we [Marlborough] stand up. I hope we're strong enough to stand up and say this is actually not what we want.”

The results of the referendums, which would take place during the 2025 election, would take effect from the 2028 local government term.

Brown said if councils did not wish to hold a poll, they would be given the opportunity to reverse their decision to establish Māori wards or to disestablish those wards prior to the 2025 local body elections.

Burgess was Marlborough’s first Māori ward councillor.

“We already made a decision to have this seat and it’s working well,” Burgess said.

“They're [Government] saying that they want the voices of the people heard by bringing this back up.

“But in fact, the choice was already made by the people in the seats that were there to make that vote in the first place.”

Most of Marlborough’s council voted in favour of establishing a Māori ward in May 2021. One councillor was absent for the vote, and the only person to vote against it was Blenheim ward councillor Jamie Arbuckle, who was also now a New Zealand First MP.

At the time, Marlborough deputy mayor Nadine Taylor, who had since become mayor, backed the decision with “great pleasure”.

At the time, Marlborough deputy mayor Nadine Taylor, who had since become mayor, backed the decision with “great pleasure”.

The council decided not to introduce Māori wards before an initial deadline in November 2020. But it eventually gave it the green light after the deadline was extended.

Burgess said she was a big believer in what was good for Māori being good for everybody.

“Hopefully Marlborough is at a point where we are going to move together through this, united.

“Because the seat's not mine, I just sit there. It’s a seat for Māori.”

On Friday, Taylor said the decision to introduce a Māori ward was one that the council felt was right for Marlborough.

"It wasn't a unanimous decision, but it was by far a majority decision,“ Taylor said.

Around the same time, the council settled on having a third councillor in the Marlborough Sounds ward, despite the population only requiring two.

“Often we’ve stood up for what we think is the right formula for representation for this province,” Taylor said.

“I think personally, councils and councillors are best placed to make those assessments. We're in the business to make those decisions, I quite firmly hold that view.”

Taylor said she had seen the benefit of having Burgess’ voice around the table.

“There’s no doubt about that,” Taylor said.

“Council saw the need for it, and that need hasn’t changed.”

Taylor said she was yet to meet and discuss the announcement with councillors, but planned to do so.


LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.

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