Academics commend Hastings District Council for inclusive, effective decision-making

Hastings District Council has recognised the benefits of engaging more closely with tangata whenua and should be congratulated for taking steps to strengthen its relationships with tangata whenua, says Victoria University of Wellington Te Kawa a Māui Head of School Associate Professor Maria Bargh.

A new proposal has been approved by the Hastings District Council (HDC) to increase Māori participation in local decision-making.

The move aligns closely with the structure of many other councils throughout Aotearoa—tangata whenua who are already appointed to the Māori Joint Committee will now be appointed to HDC standing committees as speaking and voting members.

The vote went through despite opposition from anti-diversity group Hobson's Pledge, which put out an urgent call to its supporters to write letters of opposition to HDC councillors against the proposed changes, says Te Kawa a Māui lecturer Annie Te One. “The basis of their opposition is that unelected tangata whenua should not be allowed to vote on council as—according to Hobson's Pledge—they do not possess the credentials to actively contribute to local decision-making,” she says.

Associate Professor Bargh says, “The position held by Hobson’s Pledge ignores the fact that councils have the right to appoint unelected voting members to council standing committees should they have relevent expertise. Tangata whenua who are appointed onto Māori Joint Committees possess relevant expertise relating to Iwi and Māori interests in the areas. Māori expertise are specialist expertise and should be treated as such.”

Local governments are required to ensure that Māori have access to contribute to local decision-making as part of their reponsibilities as Treaty of Waitangi partners.

Associate Professor Bargh says Māori are substantially under-represented in council decision-making structures. “Allowing tangata whenua the right to speak and vote on decisions is one way for councils to work towards equitable processes.”