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Forest Path

What do people say about democracy in a co-governance context? 

Read what these commentators say:


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Dr Carwyn Jones and Professor Andrew Geddis

Carwyn Jones (Ngāti Kahungunu) is the lead academic in Māori laws and philosophy at Te Wānanga o Raukawa. Andrew Geddis is a law professor at the University of Otago.

Carwyn Jones: “Co-governance is … one way of enhancing the legitimacy of our democratic institutions, because it provides for different rights, interests, and community voices to be represented in decision making.” 

Andrew Geddis: “One person, one vote, with elected representatives then deciding what to do about things [is] ... a great model where you have a group of people with an equal interest in some matter but different views regarding what to do about it. We each get treated the same. 

“However, is that actually the case with things like water? As Māori collectively exercised traditional authority and control over this resource in a way akin to ownership, and collectively have ongoing strong cultural and spiritual ties with it, are these collective interests the same as those of the individuals represented by local councils? 

“And if not, then it doesn’t really work to say that a “one person, one vote” model of decision making can reflect these interests properly. And if that is the case, then some form of decision making other than one person, one vote is needed to work out how the issue at hand will be resolved.”

Carwyn Jones: “There are lots of different models of democracy. One model of democracy is for citizens to vote directly on all matters rather than electing representatives to make decisions on our behalf. Many democratic models ensure effective representation across different communities of interest. The US senate, for example, has two senators from each state, no matter what the population of the state. Consequently, a voter in Rhode Island has greater influence on the election of their senators than does a voter in California. 

“Even in our House of Representatives [our] electoral system tries to give a voice to different communities of interest by dividing the country into electorates, rather than simply electing the 120 highest polling candidates voted on by the whole country at large. Effective democracy is about providing fair representation and effective voice.” 

From: Charlotte Muru-Lanning, April 2023, Explained: What’s going on with formerly-named Three Waters and co-governance, The Spinoff.

Four Political Scientists

Professor Janine Hayward  ( Otago University), Dr Emily Beausoleil (Victoria University), Professor Richard Shaw, (Massey University), Dr Claire Timperley (Victoria University).

“Te Tiriti commits us to co-governance - mutual recognition and equality of two peoples in partnership. In the name of equality, then, as well as the specific obligations set out in the terms for our co-existence, serious changes are needed to redress the deeply entrenched inequalities in political power, resource, and recognition between Pākehā and Māori.

A few extra seats at the table at council is still a far cry from the equality between peoples committed to in Te Tiriti. We have a very long way to go. But it is a step in the right direction, both in the name of greater equality, and the commitments made for coexistence in Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

It's time to put aside false narratives about Te Tiriti and democracy, so we can actually realise the promise of both, and become a more equal country. Many of us may have grown up with these falsehoods that keep inequalities in place. But when we have learned to see more, we have a responsibility to do better”. 

From: Janine Hayward, Emily Beausoleil, Richard Shaw, and Claire Timperley, May 2022, Commitments to equality in Te Tiriti mean co-governance. Newsroom.

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Gerrard Albert

Whanganui iwi leader


Gerrard Albert says that Te Awa Tupua (the Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act of 2017 is bringing significant change to how democracy is practised in central and local government, and community processes. 

 “Some see [co-governance] as a 50-50 representative model, some as having Māori wards. In our context, Te Awa Tupua isn't co-governance but a much stronger framework.  Te Awa Tupua is a community-led model where hapū and iwi are just part of the picture.  Māori are part of our community and have a distinct voice within that community.  

“Democracy exists to provide for that, to ensure voices are heard.  Unfortunately, people see co-governance, or any co-operative arrangement that includes Māori as a threat, and of course, it isn't… If you look at Te Pūwaha, the Whanganui port redevelopment, it's a community-led model which isn't relying on the councils to make decisions but on the community being engaged to guide the process – a much stronger democratic model.”

From: Moana Eliss, April 2022, Why Whanganui River tribes have moved beyond co-governance to a new model for better democracy, Whanganui Chronicle.


Review into the Future for Local Government

In its 2022 draft report, specifically page 86, the Review into the Future for Local Government says:

“At its heart, we think co-governance in a local government context is about decision-making partnerships between local government and Māori, built on trust and confidence, used to develop a vision and objectives for a Kaupapa to work together. It is about sharing information at the outset and bringing together different perspectives and knowledge systems in a conversation based on mutual recognition.”

“We do not think co-governance undermines the fundamentals of democratic decision-making – we think it augments and enriches the local governance system with an indigenous way of deliberating.”

Jim Palmer (chair), Penny Hulse, Antoine Coffin, Gael Surgenor, and Brendan Boyle.  Review into the Future for Local Government: Draft Report,  October 2022.

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