National Nati news / Politics
Written by: Tina Wickliffe
8 Dec 2015

Ngati Porou have had their say about who can best represent them at the decision making table of Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou. Or have they? In this opinion piece former political reporter Tina Wickliffe analyses voter participation and what needs to be done to get more Naatis engaged.

The diversity of candidates that stood in the 2015 TRONPnui trustee elections could be likened to a hakari – there was something, or someone, to suit every­one’s tastes. From a smorgasbord of 38 candidates ranging from the well sea­soned to the underdone, 14 people have been selected for the top table.

Over the next four years these 14 peo­ple will oversee the management of as­sets worth over $200 million and have responsibilities comparable to a mini government. Government, or more spe­cifically Cabinet, is responsible for the allocation of scarce resources acquired through taxation on behalf of the New Zealand public. Similarly the TRON­Pnui board allocates Ngati Porou dollars, acquired through its Treaty settlements and commercial activities, to economic, social and cultural portfolios on behalf of the wider tribe.

Like Parliament the quality of Nga­ti Porou representation at the decision making table is dependent on the en­gagement and participation of voters or tribal membership. Over 18,395 voting packs were sent to registered adult Ngati Porou, but only 4,152 members voted – an increase on the 2011 elections but a low turnout all the same. New TRON­Pnui CE Herewini Te Koha agrees there’s room for improvement. “We had more Ngati Porou voters turn out to have their say in this election, but we know we can all do much better.”

So who were the four thousand plus Naatis that voted? While electionz, the company contracted to oversee the TRONPnui elections were at the time of this article going to press unable to provide a breakdown, we can look to Maori participation in the general election for clues – just switch out the word Maori for Ngati Porou. Research prepared for the Electoral Commission suggests older Maori with comfortable living standards and a smaller group of younger Maori actively engaged in Te Ao Maori are more likely to vote. Rangatahi – a characteristic of Nga­ti Porou – and poorer living standards – another characteristic – affect partic­ipation. Given the youthful and urban diasporic profile of Ngati Porou, it’s a no brainer that this population must be en­gaged to ensure future representation on the Runanganui is robust and effective. Unlike mainstream political parties, the Runanganui turns its back on this ‘too hard’ demographic at its own peril.

Evidence suggests Maori voters will only engage and participate if they’re confident their voices will be heard – and their vote will make a difference. For an explanation of why only 22% of registered tribal members participated in this year’s trustee elections, the an­swers once again appear to mirror the dramatic decline in Maori engagement at a central government level. Electoral Commission research lists cynicism and procedural difficulties amongst the rea­sons for low engagement and apathy.

Public perception sounds like a polit­ical cliche but it’s still a truism – and if a recent online poll is to be believed it’ll take more than identity politics to get Naatis ticking boxes. The poll showed that 72% of respondents thought honesty, transparency and in­tegrity were the most important attrib­utes that a TRONPnui trustee should have – only 8% said love for Ngati Po­rou. A lack of trust in the organisation could therefore be expressed by not reg­istering or voting. In fact, one conclu­sion is that Maori have greater trust in democracy and voting than they do in the government and elected representa­tives – a cynicism that could be echoed in the low turnout for the TRONPnui elections.

Then there are procedural difficulties, partly illustrated by the 475 votes that were disallowed. The issue was high­lighted by Wellington Taura Here can­didate Mei Taare who stood in the hotly contested Rohenga 4 area – Te Onepoto ki Rahuimanuka. Her campaign capital­ised on the perception the TRONPnui registration process is burdensome and a deterrent as it requires presentation of a birth certificate and whakapapa verifi­cation from a recognised kaumatua. The discontent raised from this simple issue helped mobilise Ngati Porou ki Poneke and catapult Taare onto the Board be­hind returning trustee Tui Warmen­hoven.

Despite the less than overwhelming turnout, the seeds for change have been sown nonetheless with eight newbies voted on to the Board. Their contribu­tion will be an interesting addition to the institutional memory and expertise embodied by the proven stalwarts such as Herewini Parata. As the Runanganui sets its post-settlement course with new leadership at the helm at both the exec­utive and management level, it will need to project an aspirational image Ngati Porou want to be part of. In other words the Runanganui must be relevant to the 70 thousand people it represents. “Our challenge is to make the Runanganui a real and valued part of the lives of our whanau,” says Herewini Te Koha. “And in turn create real opportunities for our whanau to strengthen their connections to home.”

So now the mahi begins for the TRONPnui class of 2015. Whether they can raise the democratic participa­tion of the iwi remains to be seen, but Herewini Te Koha believes the iwi as a whole have cause to look ahead with optimism. “This election was about the future of our iwi. Not just the next four years but the long-term, intergenera­tional wellbeing of our people. The iwi has spoken through their votes, and now we look forward with confidence to the future.”

Tukuna mai o whakaaro