Palmerston North have voted in a binding referendum to not allow the establishment of Māori seats. The council voted to establish Māori wards, but according to legislation a councils decision to establish Māori wards can be overturned in a binding referendum, with a majority vote. That benchmark was easily reached with 69% of voters opposing the seats. Palmerston North Mayor Grant Smith told Kawekōrero it was a disappointing result.
"I was saddened that, one, it didn't get over the line, and two, that it was not closer," says Smith.
Palmerston North has a population of just over 80,000 residents, only 37 percent of whom voted in this referendum. The Mayor says there's a range of reasons why many Māori chose not to engage in the referendum but stands by his reasons for holding it.
"I still think it's a healthy debate to have had, I'm proud that we stood up to and were brave enough to have that debate and I think that in terms of local iwi, and Māori, in general, have been heartened that Palmerston North did have the debate."
In the Western Bay of Plenty, the locals there have also voted against the establishment of Māori wards. Almost 80 percent voted against the wards with a voter turnout of around 40 percent. Five councils around New Zealand have introduced Māori wards to the table, but some Palmerston North Councillors say they were elected to represent the interests of the entire district, not any one group and that there is a willingness to consult and co-operate with iwi, so a Māori ward was unnecessary. But the Mayor has a different view and says introducing a Māori ward is a move in the right direction.
"There is a level of education for some older Pākehā, I say to them 'how are your kids, how are you grandchildren now interacting with Māori?', and the conversation changes slightly," says Smith.
He believes in six years from now the council will get the vote backing Māori wards.