Government progresses Māori wards legislation

The coalition Government’s legislation to restore the rights of communities to determine whether to introduce Māori wards has passed its first reading in Parliament, Local Government Minister Simeon Brown says.

“Divisive changes introduced by the previous government denied local communities the ability to determine whether to establish Māori wards.”

The Local Government (Electoral Legislation and Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill will give councils that established a Māori ward without referendum the chance to reverse their decision or hold a binding poll at the 2025 elections on whether to continue with the Māori ward.

“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.

“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.”

The Bill will also reinstate a requirement for 5 per cent of voters to initiate a referendum on proposals for a Māori ward.

“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.”

The omnibus Bill will also make broader amendments to the statutory timeframes for local elections, extending the delivery period for voting papers from six days to 14 days, and extending the voting period by ten 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.

“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.”

The Bill will have a shortened committee process to ensure changes are in place to give councils time to make their decisions before the 2025 local elections.