Maori aspirations for two places at the New Plymouth District Council table were dealt a near killer blow last night.
Councillors overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to create two dedicated Maori seats in time for the 2013 elections. Instead, they moved for the issue to be included on the 2013 local body election ballot papers to let voters decide.
Reaction to the non-decision decision was immediate with Peter Moeahu, the man who has long championed the seats, leading a dramatic and angry walkout of the 60 Maori who had attended the meeting.
Councillors Howie Tamati, Lynn Bublitz and Pauline Lockett voted to establish the seats in time for the 2013 elections. However, all other councillors except Heather Dodunski and Andrew Judd, who were absent, voted to put the seats issue to a poll.
Mr Tamati was also visibly deflated by the decision coming as it did after he had told his fellow councillors such a poll would not reflect Maori aspirations as a majority of voters were non-Maori.
The decision was made all the more bitter in that it followed a green light for the tino rangatiratanga flag to fly permanently alongside the New Zealand flag in front of the civic centre.
“I’m a bit dispirited, a bit frustrated. I had wanted to see this move ahead.
“It feels to me a bit like tokenism. They say you can have a flag but you can’t have a vote,” Mr Tamati said.
However, should a majority of voters decide in 2013 that Maori wards are a good idea, the council will be bound to act and have the wards in place in time for the 2016 elections.
Despite a number of calls for council to show leadership and go against public opinion on the matter, mayor Harry Duynhoven believed his councillors had made a courageous decision putting the issue to a poll.
“As Maori have said at the beginning, this is an issue public would vote against. So as a council to decide to take it to the public is a good decision,” Mr Duynhoven said.