The Local Government Act 2002 recognises and respects the Crown’s obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi by placing some specific obligations on local authorities. These obligations are intended to facilitate participation by Māori in local authorities’ decision-making processes. The Local Government Act 2002 charges local authorities with a clear responsibility to take an informed approach to how decision-making can benefit the social, cultural, economic and environmental well-being of the Māori community.
The Department of Internal Affairs commissioned Kāhui Tautoko Consulting Ltd (KTCL) to undertake independent case study research of four councils across New Zealand exploring their responses to the Local Government Act’s requirements about engagement with Māori. The primary focus of the research was to provide a range of information and perspectives, particularly from Māori, around:
- the mechanisms and processes utilised for engagement;
- the perceived impact of the LGA in changing the nature of engagement;
- Māori responses to councils, where they see issues and how these might be resolved.
The research found that there are a number of different processes and mechanisms that are being used by councils to facilitate the engagement and input of Māori into the decisionmaking process. Each of the processes that were developed sought to respond to the particular dynamics and characteristics of individual councils and their respective communities.
A number of the responses from participants identified some characteristics for successful engagement and relationship processes:
- Elected members and council staff having a strong understanding and appreciation for Māori issues and local histories, practices and values;
- Council leadership in driving engagement with Māori works better when driven from the top;
- Relationships built on goodwill, trust and mutual respect;
- Mechanisms for Māori participation and engagement being developed throughout all levels of council, including at the governance level where high level decision-making took place;
- Adequate resourcing to follow engagement processes and help them to be sustainable;
- Coordinated strategies, including resourcing, for building Māori capacity to help address any imbalance in the relationship and enable Māori to effectively engage;
- Engagement being broader than consultation, and focused on involving Māori early in council policy and planning processes;
- Council and Māori regularly reviewing their relationships by monitoring and measuring the effectiveness of existing mechanisms to inform future planning and approaches.
A wide range of mechanisms are used by councils to facilitate the engagement of Māori into the decision-making process. There is no standard template for effective engagement between council and Māori or a single strategy for success. Rather it is the simultaneous application of some the characteristics noted above, tailored to the circumstances of each community, that is likely to bring about effective change.
Relationships between local government and Māori in the case study area appear to have strengthened over the past decade. Comments received from participants suggest that while the Local Government Act 2002 has made a contribution in terms of clarifying the role (especially around the ‘four well-beings1’) of local government and validating and encouraging stronger Māori involvement in council decision-making, other factors have been more influential in driving these changes. There seems to be a stronger willingness and growing awareness from councils around the need to engage with Māori.
Assisted by the Treaty settlement process, many Māori have also undergone a period of growth, and this has helped to mobilise and structure Māori collectives. In the context of the relationship between local government and Māori, these developments, are significant and are a cause for optimism by participants about the direction being taken. As one Māori participant noted “the waka is heading in the right direction”.
Overall the councils’ involved, believe that there are a number of opportunities for Māori to be represented and engaged in council decision-making processes and that there is, albeit to varying levels, a good level of engagement between Māori and council. All these councils had developed a range of approaches in regards to engaging with Māori based on their own local context and community. Each council had identified its own priorities and issues and seemed optimistic about the potential that existed to further strengthen collaborative relationships with Māori.
Many Māori participants commented that local government still has a way to go in terms of engaging and including Māori in the decision-making process. Māori participants believed that more leadership from local government will be needed if they are to better engage at all levels of council, particularly at the governance level. These participants also considered there is also a need to better reflect Māori ways of working within councils’ values, structures and processes.
Ultimately the role of local government under the LGA framework, in addressing the environmental, social, cultural and economic wellbeing of the community, provides a strong platform for the engagement with Māori. This holistic approach aligns closely with Māori world views where all things (land, social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing) are interconnected. From the observations made in this research, Māori are generally determined to take a central role in the decision-making process as a key group in the achievement of the communities’ wellbeing across these areas.