Battle lines have been drawn over a decision by the Tauranga City Council to establish a Maori Ward for the next local body election.
A group called Concerned Citizens has a petition calling for a binding poll on the issue.
A binding poll is required if requested in writing and signed by at least five per cent of electors.
That means just under 5000 signatures are required.
Tauranga Mayor Tenby Powell says the petition is “not at all” unexpected.
He says the council has a statutory obligation to ensure tangata whenua representation and few major decisions can be made without iwi input.
“My hope is that the community is mature enough to recognise that.”
The council has already granted voting rights to iwi representatives on its committees and the Maori ward was another way to ensure better Maori representation and quicker progress on major decisions where iwi needed to be consulted.
“[It’s] a partnership that we must develop or the city will remain in the current state that it is in which is locked up, lacking in housing, lacking in affordable housing, roads that are clogged, lacking infrastructure,” Powell says.
Concerned Citizens representative Tony Felllingham disagrees. He says the group’s “bone of contention” is that the council has no mandate to introduce a Maori ward.
A statement from the group says that “any race-based voting arrangement is actually a form of separatism or tokenism”.
It says the council is rushing ahead, and “virtue signalling” with no consultation.
“It has a responsibility for things like decent drinking water, roads, sports facilities, functioning sewage system, stadiums or what have you,” Fellingham says.
“There isn’t a Maori view of what roads should be repaired or what sports facilities get built so it makes the requirement for a separate Maori ward really not necessary.”
Concerned Citizens has the backing of national lobby group Hobson’s Pledge which has paid for advertising space for the petition form in this week’s The Weekend Sun.
Another Concerned Citizens member Ken Evans says the concept of electing one Maori councillor to represent all the different iwi “wouldn’t stand for serious debate” because Maori are not a “homogenous” group.
“Who is this one person supposed to represent?”
There hasn’t been a councillor of Maori descent on the council for more than 20 years.
Powell says Maori represent about 17 per cent of the Tauranga population and growing. Working with iwi is “critically important” to Tauranga Moana and Western Bay of Plenty going forward, Powell says.