ACT's David Seymour compares Labour to Communist China after Tauranga commissioners vote for Māori ward

China has made significant electoral changes recently in Hong Kong.
China has made significant electoral changes recently in Hong Kong. Photo credit: Getty.

ACT Party leader David Seymour has compared the Labour Government to the Chinese Communist Party in social media posts critical of local government moves in Tauranga.

Tauranga City Council commissioners - installed by the Government after significant governance issues were last year found at the Council - on Monday voted to establish a Māori ward.

It comes just weeks after the central Government passed legislation abolishing an effective veto of councils' decision to introduce Māori wards for the 2022 election. 

Previously, a council's decision to introduce a Māori ward could be overturned in a referendum demanded by 5 percent of voters. However, this was suggested to be unfair as such a policy doesn't apply to general wards 

"The process of establishing a ward should be the same for both Māori and general wards. These are decisions for democratically elected councils, who are accountable to the public every three years," Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said in February.

Reacting to the vote by the commissioners on Monday night, Seymour compared the Labour Government to the Chinese Communist Party by likening moves made in Tauranga to recent  changes in Hong Kong. 

"Distant left-wing govt destroys city’s democracy, installing its own local govt, and taking away citizens' right to challenge decisions. Then it changes how locals can elect their own reps, according to its own ideology. Question: are we talking about Hong Kong or Tauranga?" the party leader said.

China has come under criticism - including from Mahuta in her role as Foreign Affairs Minister - for changes it has recently made to Hong Kong's electoral system allowing Beijing "patriots" more sway in the running of the financial hub.

Among the changes, which critics say undermine the city's democratic processes, is a cut to the number of representatives directly elected to the Hong Kong Legislative Chamber. Prospective representatives now have to also be vetted by a committee loyal to Beijing. 

A joint statement from Mahuta and Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne in March said they were "deeply concerned" the changes "further undermine rights and freedoms and the high degree of autonomy guaranteed by China to Hong Kong until 2047 under the Sino-British Joint Declaration".

In response to Seymour, Mahuta told Newshub: "That is a silly comment".

"The reality is that the appointment of the commissioners has seen progress in Tauranga and they are making decisions at pace so that all peoples of Tauranga and the region benefit from having good governance decisions being made there."

Mahuta appointed a Commission to the Tauranga City Council last year after significant issues were identified with its governance and a number of representatives - including the mayor - resigned. The chair of the Commission is Anne Tolley, a former National Party minister.

The NZ Government announced changes to the Māori ward policy in February, striving to increase representation for Māori in local government. Mahuta said the polls had been proven to be "an almost insurmountable barrier" to introducing wards and "fundamentally unfair to Māori". 

Between 2002 and February this year, 24 councils tried to establish Māori wards, but only two were successful. 

The ACT Party has consistently opposed the changes and said the percentage of councillors who are Māori already mirrors the percentage of New Zealanders who identify as Māori.

“We joke about this Government being undemocratic, but I never thought I’d see Labour taking away the right to vote just because they don’t like people’s choices," Seymour said in February.

“If Labour is serious about consistency between wards, the democratic approach would be to expand voters’ rights to allow them to recall any scheme councillors introduce given councillors are setting up a scheme for their own election."

Labour MP Tamati Coffey welcomed the Tauranga commissioners' vote on Monday, saying it ensures "there is always Māori voices being heard". 

"If partnership is the real goal, then one seat won't do. We need to make sure that we are growing Māori leadership in the general constituencies too. Like a true meaningful partnership."