National's first election 2023 promise: Judith Collins vows to overturn 'undemocratic' Māori wards law change

Judith Collins is vowing to overturn the "undemocratic" law that scraps the ability for Māori wards to be overturned by a local poll, if National wins the election in 2023. 

The law change was passed in Parliament on Wednesday night under urgency. It was contentious because Labour only gave the public two days to make submissions. 

"The way we elect our councils is a fundamental part of our democracy. This legislation takes away the ability of New Zealanders to have a voice in this decision making," Collins said after the law passed. 

"National isn't opposed to Māori wards if councils and their communities want them, but it is for communities to make this decision - a right the Government has robbed them of tonight.

"National trusts New Zealanders to decide who they elect to their councils. This legislation should not have been rammed through Parliament under urgency in two days. National will restore New Zealanders' democratic rights."

Under the Local Electoral Act, a council's decision to establish a Māori ward or seat could be overturned in a referendum. If 5 percent of ratepayers supported having the poll, 50 percent would have to vote in favour. The policy did not apply to general wards, which is why it had been labelled unfair.  

Where polls have been triggered by electors, all have resulted in the council's decision being overturned. Only one council-initiated poll - at Wairoa District Council in 2016 - has resulted in Māori wards being established. 

The Government rushed through the law change under urgency saying March 22 is the deadline by which the legislation would need to be passed to avoid local referendums on Māori wards taking place for the 2022 local elections. 

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta described it in Parliament as "the first step towards removing a discriminatory poll which proved a barrier too high and could overturn council resolutions to establish Māori wards and constituencies". 

National's local government spokesperson Christopher Luxon - the former CEO of Air New Zealand - said the law change was "poor process" and that the Government should have consulted New Zealanders more. 

"They're just jamming and ramming it through, and that's what they've done and that's going to cause some division across our country," he said in Parliament. 

National MP Simon Bridges described it as "terrible process" and said the Government is forcing Māori wards on communities that don't want them. 

"What it does over time, in effect, is make Māori wards and constituency not a choice for local communities--whether Wairoa or Tauranga or Napier or Auckland or Wellington--it makes them quasi-compulsory around New Zealand. That is what Nanaia Mahuta has set in place, and over the next few years we will see in this country."

ACT leader David Seymour is also opposed to the law change. He said a better name for the legislation would be the Apartheid Bill - a reference to the system that upheld segregation against non-whites in South Africa. 

"The most odious belief in human history is that we should treat people differently based on their racial group. This legislation makes the colour of someone's skin more important than the content of their character," Seymour said. 

"Just as the world is trying to make people more equal and focus on our common humanity, this Government is focused on dividing us based on who our great grandparents were."

The Greens are backing the law change. 

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson posted photos on Twitter of her posing with Mahuta, celebrating the passing of the legislation. 

Davidson said of Mahuta: "Loved her strength of absolute fire to burn through the hours of racist boring dog-whistling in the House and get it done anyway."

Davidson formerly had a Members Bill on the issue of Māori wards, which was introduced in 2017 and voted down. 

"This is a positive step towards affirming the kaitiakitanga of tangata whenua. I am extremely proud to have been a part of getting these amendments through the House, and look forward to working and supporting change for Māori," she said in a statement. 

"We commend the Government on their mahi to pushing for Māori wards to finally be established."