Hobson’s Pledge flyers opposing Māori wards in Gisborne ‘undermining democracy’

By Alice Angeloni, Local Democracy Reporter

Hot-pink flyers calling for Gisborne residents to trigger a vote on Māori wards have been “framed dishonestly”, deputy mayor Josh Wharehinga says.

Flyers sponsored by lobby group Hobson’s Pledge have been dropped in letterboxes around Gisborne and claim to give citizens the opportunity to “support the democratic process”.

But Wharehinga said that was “rubbish” and the push by Hobson’s Pledge undermined Gisborne’s local democratic process.

“The return mail address isn’t even a local one,” he said.

“It’s distinctly undemocratic because we’ve been through a democratic process where an overwhelming majority of our community gave us feedback that they support the establishment of Māori wards.

“The decision was made by the democratically elected councillors of the Gisborne district unanimously.

“So it’s actually framed dishonestly.

“Even if you disagree with Māori wards, you can’t deny that we followed the democratic process.”

Wharehinga posted a video on social media saying, “Do the right thing, don’t sign it.”

He also believed the flyers could mislead community members into thinking this was an opportunity for them to show their support for Māori wards.

“If you don’t know better, you could read that and go ‘yeah I want to have a democratic say, I want to say yes’.”

But that was not the “intent” of this flyer, Wharehinga said.

Hobson’s Pledge is known for an “anti-separatism” campaign launched in 2016, and led by former National Party leader Don Brash, against alleged “Māori favouritism”.

Wharehinga called the group “outside influences trying to mess with our democracy”.

On November 23, Gisborne District councillors voted unanimously in favour of establishing Māori wards for the 2022 and 2025 elections.

While 53 per cent of Tairāwhiti’s population identify as Māori, compared to 17 per cent nationally, this is not reflected in the composition of the council. Four of the 14 elected representatives are Māori.

Following a representation arrangements review, if 13 councillors and the mayor were to remain, five councillors would be elected from one or more Māori wards and eight would be elected from general wards.

Clive Bibby, who has signed the petition but was not involved in circulating flyers, said there was “no secret” about what they wanted to achieve.

“We want to get this decision by the council overturned and we are using our democratic rights, which may not last for that long if the Government has its way, to follow the process,” he said.

Bibby was concerned about the lack of information around the structure of an electoral system which included Māori wards, and wanted questions answered about the future of rural wards and the number of Māori wards.

If 1625 signatures are collected by February 21, councillors’ vote in favour of Māori wards would be overturned, triggering a binding poll.

The binding poll provision has been called “discriminatory” by East Coast MP Kiri Allan, while Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta has vowed to change the legislation to remove the polling requirement.

Three of New Zealand’s 78 local authorities have Māori wards — Wairoa District Council and Bay of Plenty and Waikato regional councils — despite legally being able to do so since 2002.

Eight of New Zealand’s last nine citizen-initiated polls have overturned these council decisions.

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