Councillor Michael Laws has issued a statement strongly condemning the recommendations to Otago Regional Council, that local iwi being given two voting and paid seats on ORC’s policy committee. Laws says this recommendation is “so privileged, and so obviously racist, that it calls into question the fundamental principles of democracy in Otago.”
Yesterday, Wednesday May 15, ORC received a senior executive management paper that recommended two positions on the council’s policy committee be reserved exclusively for iwi (specifically Otakau Runanga) representatives; that they be accorded full speaking and voting rights; that they be paid on the same pro rata basis as elected councillors; and that those positions be appointed by the local runanga.
Laws calls this “an extraordinary assault upon democracy. It is a recommendation that embraces all the PC nonsense of our age but misrepresents both logic and law in advancing such racial privilege.”
“Whatever injustice Maori might have received in the past, can’t be corrected by empowering their descendants to have additional powers and privileges, that are simply unavailable to the ordinary Otago person. And the greatest irony is that this privilege is denied to not only all Pakeha in Otago, all Asian and Pasifika folk, all other races and cultures, but also all non-iwi (Ngai Tahu) Maori. It’s a backdoor way of getting not Maori wards, but iwi-only wards.”
The Wanaka Sun asked Laws how previous injustices should be addressed, if policy committee seats were not a solution that suited his perspective. He replied, “Any transgressions re the Treaty and Ngai Tahu were sorted by act of Parliament in early 1990s. I was on the Maori Affairs committee that sat hearing submissions on the bill and on the Sealords deal that provided Ngai Tahu with their current asset base. In other words, the grievance was righted then, by law, and agreed.
“This is not that. This is about improving Maori participation in the democratic process and you don’t do that by gifting them seats based upon ethnicity with NO public consultation whatsoever.
“As mayor of a council in a previous life, I initiated a separate Maori committee that could provide a viewpoint on matters related to council, but that did not include giving a governance role. The current ORC proposal is iwi advantage over every other person resident in Otago. Anybody can stand for council and be elected—no one is currently gifted a seat on the basis of being one part of the community.”
In response to Laws’ criticism, ORC Chair Stephen Woodhead said, “We have had a Memorandum of Understanding in place with local Runanga since 2003 which outlines how we develop our planning documents working with our iwi partners.
“Recent discussion on how we could enhance our relationship resulted in a request from the four local Runanga Chairs for ORC to consider appointment of iwi representatives to our policy committee. While the recommendation to approve iwi representation on our Policy Committee is yet to be discussed, this way of welcoming the voice of iwi around the table would reflect not only past practice (council previously had iwi representation on the Technical Committee) but also our statutory responsibilities to consult with iwi in planning policy. This is an opportunity to enhance our relationship with local Rūnanga in a meaningful way.”
UPDATE: as going to press, the Wanaka Sun was notified that the recommendation for two seats to be given to iwi, was passed by seven votes to three.