Pictured above: David Parker, Attorney-General of New Zealand.
By Emilie Paris Baldauf
The Rotorua District Council Representative Arrangements Bill was drafted by the Rotorua Lakes Council and brought to Parliament by Rotorua-based Labour MP Tamati Coffey. It would grant 21,700 Māori roll voters three seats in the electorate, the same number of seats given to the 55,600 General roll voters . The Bill’s purpose is to change the electoral rules for the district to provide the “Council’s ideal representation arrangement” for the Rotorua District . This arrangement would allow the Māori roll and General roll to have an equal influence in electing councillors. Due to the Local Electoral Act, the number of seats in a Māori ward is currently restricted based on the population ratios for the District .
In his latest report, Attorney General David Parker deemed the Bill “discriminatory against non-Māori” . A matter highlighted in the report is the disproportionately higher number of Māori ward council members than for the General ward relative to their population distribution. Parker notes that “as the disadvantaged group is those on the General roll, changing representation arrangements away from proportional representation, therefore, creates a disadvantage for non-Māori as they cannot in the future elect to change roles” .
As per the Attorney General’s report, below are the arrangements planned for in the Bill :
• one general ward with three seats;
• one Māori ward with three seats;
• four seats elected at large;
• one mayor elected at large;
• a Rotorua Lakes Community Board; and
• a Rotorua Rural Community Board.
In distinguishing between Māori and Non-Māori, the Bill would develop electoral segregation. This is because those of Māori descent can choose if they would like to be enrolled in the General electorate roll or the Māori roll. However, people of non-Māori descent can only be registered on the General roll. Those enrolled in the Māori roll can only vote for the Māori seats, whereas those on the General roll can only vote for the General seats . In his report, Parker concluded: “The Bill appears to limit the right to be free from discrimination affirmed in s19 of the Bill of Rights Act (“Everyone has the right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of discrimination in the Human Rights Act 1993”)  and cannot be justified” .
Currently, the Rotorua Lakes Council has decided to “pause” the implementation of the Bill. However, this may not mean the end of the Bill. According to the Rotorua mayor, Steve Chadwick, “this will allow council officers to work with legal advisors, parliamentary and government advisors, on strengthening the policy work of the local bill” before its implementation . This begs the question, should people be divided based on their ethnicities?