A committee established to forge a meaningful partnership between Maori and Tauranga City Council has failed to vote with one voice on the biggest challenge since it formed eight years ago.
It was unable to reach a consensus on whether Maori should get a separate seat on council.
Maori members successfully pushed for a clear-cut vote on the issue when a diluted response seemed the likely outcome of yesterday's meeting. It resulted in the tangata whenua/council committee backing the establishment of a separate Maori Ward by a vote of 3-1, with the three councillors abstaining.
Mayor Stuart Crosby and Crs Rick Curach, Murray Guy and Catherine Stewart all felt they were being put in a difficult position by being asked to vote on the issue before it went to council.
Cr Guy and Mr Crosby said they had not made up their minds and wanted to keep an open mind, although Mr Crosby voted against a Maori ward on the basis that he never abstained. Pio Kawe defended calling for the vote, saying it was the only opportunity Maori members of the committee would get.
"You get your chance when it goes back to the council."
Council chief executive Stephen Town said abstaining allowed councillors to reserve their decision until later in the process.
Yesterday's vote now goes into the mix for a council decision in November and could influence debate later this month when council decides whether to stick with the first-past-the-post (FPP) voting system for the 2010 elections, or switch to the single transferable vote (STV) system.
In a strong signal about how some councillors could deal with the politically loaded issue of a separate Maori seat, Mr Crosby was the only person to vote against STV.
Councillors and and non-elected Maori members of the committee agreed that STV added more weight to each vote and increased the chances of minority groups like Maori getting candidates elected on to council.
Mr Crosby argued that STV was confusing and failed the constituency by not encouraging people to vote.
On the issue of a separate Maori seat, tangata whenua members of the committee argued strongly in favour of a Maori ward, and enlisted one of Environment Bay of Plenty's three Maori constituency members Raewyn Bennett to support their case.
Mrs Bennett said there were clear links between Maori lack of political power and their poverty. Research indicated that if Maori saw a purpose to voting then they would vote.
She said a Maori ward would fully realise Maori potential without taking anything away from the majority. Referring to the city council's current systems of participation for Maori, she said Maori should not merely be consulted.
Mr Kawe said Maori could only recommend and not participate in final council decisions. "That is the point we are constantly making."
Ngaronoa Reweti-Ngata said that as much as Maori felt they were a part of the community, nothing came back to them unless they fought for it.
Respect came from being acknowledged and not patronised, and giving Maori the ability to share their views, she said. Cr Rick Curach said no one was questioning the benefits of having Maori representation, it was the process of getting there that was the issue.