Orakei councillor Cameron Brewer put it mildly when he suggested most Aucklanders would be surprised to learn that unelected members of the Auckland Council's Maori advisory board can vote on council committees.This indeed would be astonishing, if true. But it isn't true.
Astonished would be more like it. The Government, having rejected the sensible option of dedicated Maori seats on the council, has breached a fundamental precept of democracy to ensure the Maori voice is heard. Handing full voting powers to appointed advisers - Maori or otherwise - is anathema. It will serve only to breed resentment in the wider community.
The Government, hasn't breached a fundamental precept of democracy. And it hasn't handed "full voting powers to appointed advisers - Maori or otherwise". There may well be resentment in the community, but if there is, (and I don't see it from the comments on the Herald editorial), the Auckland Council can fix it at its first council meeting in February.
Let me explain. First, the law.
Section 85 of the Local Government (Auckland Council) Amendment Act 2010, set up the mana whenua board, and provides as follows:
Under subsection (1), the board is required to appoint a maximum of two persons to the committees that deal with the management and stewardship of natural and physical resources. It appears the appointments are therefore limited. And, the Council can ask for more if it likes.
85 Board’s specific functions
(1) The board must appoint a maximum of 2 persons to sit as members on each of the Auckland Council’s committees that deal with the management and stewardship of natural and physical resources.
(2) If the Auckland Council asks the board to appoint a person or persons to sit as members on any other of the Council's committees, the board may do so.
(3) The board must,—
(a) before making the appointments, seek the views of the Auckland Council as to the skills and experience that the Council would like the appointees to have; and
(b) when making the appointments, take the views of the Auckland Council into account.
(4) The board must consider a request by the Auckland Council that the board accept the delegation of a function by the Council.
(5) The board must act in accordance with a delegation that it has accepted.
None of that has stopped the board appointing members on all committees. The Aucklander has more on that expansion:
"We asked the council for its requirements in regards to skills and expertise that it wanted for the members to join the committees prior to Christmas and we did not get a response back," he says.
"So, rather than wait any further, we have nominated two names for each of the majority of the committees. We have considered what skills they should have and we have put those names forward."
Asked if the public seemed aware of the Maori appointments, Mr Taipari replies: "I'm starting to find out that that's probably not the case. I believe the council has yet to get its head around it. But have we gained the balance of power? I would say we have not. What we have gained is an opportunity to participate.
"In my view, the council will always be in control of the make-up of the committees. If the council is unhappy, it can change the make-up of the committees by the flick of the wrist or the stroke of a pen. I just hope it's not made a mockery of."
Note the last paragraph, that I've highlighted. That will become important.
If Taipari is to be believed, and I think he can be, he says he asked the Council for feedback, but never got a reply. So he just did what anyone would have done - he just got on with it and nominated two names for a majority of committees.
Council committees obtain their powers, including voting rights, not through legislation, but through council's own standing orders. Those standing orders regulate meeting behaviour, and may permit votes for appointed or co-opted members of committees, or they may not. That is up to each council. Or, if standing orders are silent on the voting rights of co-opted or appointed members, the chair of the committee can put it to a vote whether such co-opted or appointed member on the committee is entitled to a vote. This isn't unusual. Many councils and community boards throughout the country have non-elected members sit on them for their voice, but not their vote. An example is youth representatives.
So whether any co-opted or appointed member gets a vote, is entirely up to the council. This is the same for the Auckland Council, or Invercargill City Council. Provided councils act in accordance with legislation, they create their own destiny in this regard. Remember, all the legislation does is appoint the members. It didn't regulate their voting power.
Could you imagine the outcry if the Auckland Council legislation said Maori appointees could sit on committees for management and stewardship purposes but couldn’t vote!! Opposition MPs (including Phil Twyford) and others would be screaming blue murder!! There would be cries of “toothless appointees” and “votes for Pakeha, but not Maori”.
So the government did not put in the legislation that the appointees from the Maori board get a vote. They couldn't; that is for the Council. The legislation merely appointed them, and that is a far cry from the Herald's protestation that the government has handed "full voting powers to appointed advisers - Maori or otherwise..."
The government has merely give them a seat. Voting rights is for the council; and the government shouldn't be telling, and hasn't told, the Council who can, and cannot, vote.
Auckland Council Standing Orders
The Auckland Transition Agency set Standing Orders to serve as the standing orders of the Council until the Council adopts its first standing orders. I understand that hasn't happened. That's important because after they are adopted, any amendment of them requires a vote of not less than 75%.
Because they haven't been sdopted, the council can, as Mr Taipari alluded to, change the make-up of the committees by the flick of the wrist or the stroke of a pen. In one motion, it can, by simple majority, amend the ATA's standing orders by removing the right of appointed members, Maori or non-Maori, to vote. And Mayor Brown has a majority on the council.
But will he do it?
Today, the Mayor seemed ambivalent:
Play what cards? The cards you have trump any cards you were dealt!
Asked for a definitive position on the matter, Mr Brown said it was important to remember that the decision to set up the Maori statutory board was made by the Government.
"We need to play the cards that were dealt to us. It is vitally important we establish ways of ensuring strong Maori representation and input into the Auckland Council.
"I am working with other councillors and the Maori statutory board to clarify their role and how they will interact and guide the work of the Auckland Council," Mr Brown said.
What is Labour's position?
Labour's Auckland issues spokesman Phil Twyford said it was untenable and undemocratic for unelected members of the board to have voting rights alongside elected representatives and the Government should amend the law to make the positions advisory only.
Mr Twyford is correct. It is untenable and undemocratic. But it is not the government's problem to mend. That's a nice way of saying "we don't want Len to have to deal with it". And, I've dealt with the point about the positions being advisory - you know, government says votes for Pakeha but not Maori etc. It should never be the government's position to mandate how a council chooses the voting rights of a council committee - that's for the Council!
To me, it looks like the government has handed Mayor Brown a problem he could do without. Does he accede to his Labour Party heirarchy and amend standing orders accordingly? Or does he allow votes to non-elected committee members?