Submission on the Local Government (Electoral Legislation and Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill 2024

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Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand

Submission on the Local Government (Electoral Legislation and Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill 2024

29 May 2024


This submission is made on behalf of Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand (AIANZ). Amnesty International is a global movement of over 10 million people who protect human dignity and defend human rights. In Aotearoa New Zealand, there are over 40,000 supporters and we work on a wide range of human rights issues of both national and international significance. Amnesty International promotes and defends human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and other international human rights instruments.

AIANZ oppose this Bill and call on the Government to stop it progressing. We are deeply concerned that the Local Government Amendment Bill breaches human rights, is discriminatory towards Māori, undermines Te Tiriti o Waitangi and democratic participation.

Under the Local Government Amendment Bill, the Government is reintroducing polls on Māori wards and Māori constituencies and making it compulsory for councils that have already introduced Māori wards and constituencies without referendums to hold binding polls in 2025. No other special ward is required to undergo a referendum process. AIANZ are appalled by the Government’s trend of policies attacking Māori rights and Te Tiriti and the serious harm that may result. We oppose this Bill, particularly on the following grounds:

  1. It seeks to dismantle equitable representation in local government and breaches Te Tiriti of Waitangi.
  2. Fails to uphold democratic participation and meaningfully consult with Māori and the wider public.
  3. Obligations under international and domestic human rights.

The value of Māori wards

The purpose of Māori Wards is to increase Māori representation in local government, providing Māori a seat at the table of decision-making which can aid the Crown in fulfiling its Treaty obligations. The Crown has an obligation to honour the right of Māori to exercise tino rangatiratanga, including who represents them in decision-making processes under Article 2 of Te Tiriti.

Māori wards strengthen our communities to the benefit of everyone. They provide for diverse perspectives, knowledge, and insights to be heard in local decision making, which is an important component of robust decision-making. They enable stronger representation of communities and for councils to better reflect its citizens. Councilors have articulated they recognize the skills and knowledge drawn from te ao Māori and relationships built between local iwi, hapū, and community.

The Local Amendment Bill will undermine these benefits. We are concerned that the Bill is discriminatory against Māori, and is not in the best interests of wider community. As noted in a letter addressed to the Government on the 22 May signed by over 50 mayors and regional council chairpersons opposing the Bill, it risks detracting from the hard work Councils are doing to deliver infrastructure and keep costs down as well as undermining the valuable contributions Māori make on local government. At the 2022 Local Government elections, 35 of 78 councils had established Māori wards and constituencies. A number which has only risen as in 2023, an additional 14 councils agreed to forming Māori wards or constituencies at the 2025 election.

Equitable representation

The Waitangi Tribunal has found this Bill discriminatory towards Māori and in breach of the principle of equity.

Māori are historically underrepresented in local government attributed to New Zealand’s colonial history obstructing Māori participation in local and national elections.

While ultimately, Te Tiriti o Waitangi is honoured when Māori have self- determination over their own destinies, fair representation in local government is crucial to progressing the Treaty partnership.

The Local Government Amendment Bill 2024 seeks to prioritise coalition promises over upholding fair representation in line with Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Blatantly violating Treaty principles, as the Waitangi Tribunal found that:

“Such unilateral decision-making is particularly egregious when it concerns measures that were introduced to remove previous discriminatory barriers to Māori political representation and to uphold the treaty partnership at the local level. We therefore find the Crown in breach of the principle of partnership and make further findings concerning the duties arising from this principle. ”

Lack of consultation

We are appalled that there was no public consultation or consultation with Māori on this proposal. The failure to consult with Māori, as Treaty Partners, in the developing stage of this Bill is a breach of Treaty principles. As the Waitangi Tribunal lay out, the Crown have a duty to consult with Māori on matters that affect their rights and attain their free, prior and informed consent before policy is developed. This was not done. The only offering of engagement occurring at select committee stage is completely inadequate to upholding Māori rights under Te Tiriti.

In civil society, the public was only given four working days to submit to select committee on this Bill. This is appalling, preventing meaningful engagement, and undermining fair, democratic process by not giving members of the community a reasonable amount of time to voice their opinion. Especially on a Bill with such significant consequences.

Human rights

We are concerned that this Bill violates a range of human rights obligations, such as those under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act (NZBORA), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Section 19 NZBORA:

"(1) Everyone has the right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of discrimination in the Human Rights Act 1993.

(2) Measures taken in good faith for the purpose of assisting or advancing persons or groups of persons disadvantaged because of discrimination that is unlawful by virtue of Part 2 of the Human Rights Act 1993 do not constitute discrimination."

Article 2 UNDRIP:

"Indigenous peoples and individuals are free and equal to all other peoples and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the exercise of their rights, in particular that based on their indigenous origin or identity."

Article 26 ICCPR:

"All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."

We’re concerned that the Local Government Amendment Bill is discriminatory through the deliberate targeting of Māori rights, when there are various other wards on council, but only Māori wards are being proposed to a referendum.

We’re deeply concerned that this Bill seeks to obstruct representation of Māori in local decision making, making it discriminatory, racist and anti-constitutional, breaching Te Tiriti and Treaty principles as described in the Waitangi Tribunal findings.


AIANZ recommend that the Government stop the progression of the Local Government Amendment Bill and meaningfully consult with Māori at a whānau, hapū and iwi level to best determine Māori representation in local government that honours Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

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