Māori wards law passes first reading in Parliament

The legislation restores to communities a say in the establishment or disestablishment of wards

Māori wards law passes first reading in Parliament

A law that seeks to return to communities the right to decide on the introduction of Māori wards has passed its first reading in Parliament.

The Local Government (Electoral Legislation and Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill will allow councils that established a Māori ward without a referendum to either reverse the decision or conduct a binding poll during the 2025 elections to determine the continuance of the Māori ward.

The law will also reintroduce a requirement for 5% of voters to initiate a referendum on proposals for a Māori ward, according to Local Government Minister Simeon Brown.

“Restoring the right to local referendums on the establishment and ongoing use of Māori wards is a commitment under both the ACT and NZ First coalition agreements with National”, Brown said. "Councils that retain their Māori wards will be required to hold a poll alongside the 2025 elections. The results of these polls will be binding on councils and will take effect for the local government term beginning October 2028".

The amendments were intended as a response to “divisive” changes implemented by the previous government that “denied local communities the ability to determine whether to establish Māori wards”, Brown indicated.

"The coalition government’s view is that any decision to establish or disestablish a Māori ward is one that should remain with communities. These changes ensure that local communities have a say in their governance arrangements," he said.

Additionally, the omnibus bill will more broadly modify the statutory timeframes for local elections, lengthening the delivery period for voting papers from 6 days to 14 days and drawing out the voting period by 10 days.

"NZ Post is no longer able to deliver voting papers for local elections within the current six-day window. Two weeks is now needed to complete nationwide delivery of voting papers for the 2025 local elections and beyond," Brown said. "Our government’s changes ensure that voters, particularly those in our rural communities, can continue to participate in their local elections by receiving their voting papers and returning them in time," he continued.

The committee process in relation to the bill is expected to be shorter to facilitate the implementation of changes such that councils are granted time to make decisions before the 2025 local elections.

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