Hobson Pledge’s Don Brash to speak against Tauranga Māori wards

A Tauranga meeting with Hobson’s Pledge spokesman Don Brash as one of the headline speakers has been organised in a bid to gather more signatures for a petition against Māori wards.

However, the meeting on Friday could face opposition from protesters as resistance to the petition swells.

The public meeting is expected to be held at the Tauranga Yacht and Power Boat Club and will discuss the issue of Māori wards. Brash, Hobson’s Pledge spokeswoman Casey Costello and former New Conservative member Elliot Ikilei will be speaking.

In August, Tauranga City Council voted to establish a Māori ward for the next election but this was met with a petition, aimed at gathering enough signatures to force a referendum to overturn the decision.

Petition organisers have already submitted the document. They had until February.

Today the Bay of Plenty Times can reveal the petition organisers have received financial support from Hobson’s Pledge, for which Brash and Costello are both spokespeople.

Brash, a former Act and National leader and Reserve Bank Governor, said he could not remember exactly who organised the meeting but confirmed it was the group responsible for the petition opposing the Tauranga Māori ward decision.

“Several people are involved. It is basically that group, certainly, and clearly, the meeting was initially organised to support the gathering of signatures.

“A lot of people are unhappy. We were asked to speak at a meeting about the issue.”

Brash confirmed Hobson’s Pledge financially supported petition organisers to “fund flyers and newspaper advertising”.

When asked how much was paid and when, Brash responded: “I can’t tell you. I literally don’t know.”

Although the Māori ward issue is the subject of petitions throughout several New Zealand territorial authorities, Brash said Friday’s meeting was the only one he had been asked to speak at.

Brash said he anticipated some people originally interested in the meeting may no longer attend due to the attention it had received.

Māori wards supporter Buddy Mikaere has organised a rally of people to gather at the meeting in opposition to it.

“I suspect some people will stay away by the [possibility] there will be protests there,” Brash said.

However, Brash was not deterred.

“It’s their right [to protest] and I respect that, absolutely. However, I fundamentally disagree with them.”

Brash intended to speak about Te Tiriti o Waitangi and Māori wards in a wider, national context and that every New Zealander was equal.

Hobson’s Pledge was “absolutely not anti-Māori”, he said.

Mikaere said at least 100 people had already expressed support in attending the meeting in peaceful protest.

“We are trying to get a whole lot of people there who are of another view,” he said.

“I don’t want it to in any way be confrontational and end up in a screaming match. We will be a quiet, dignified presence there to show that actually, there are a whole lot of people who disagree with what Hobson’s Pledge is all about.”

Mikaere said the Māori ward decision made by the council was important.

“We are looking for reasonable representation with a Māori perspective.

“All we are asking for is a reasonable representation of a population that in Tauranga is fast approaching 20 per cent of the population.”

Mikaere said Māori campaigning with a focus on Māori did not get voted for in general wards because the interest was not there. However, Māori wards addressed this and ensured a progressive way forward, he said.

Meeting organiser and Western Bay of Plenty District councillor Margaret Murray-Benge said the reason for the meeting was that democracy was “under threat” from the potential Māori ward.

Murray-Benge said the meeting had “nothing to do with Hobson’s Pledge”, despite Brash and Costello’s speaking roles.

“They are speaking because I’ve invited them as individuals, not because they are from Hobson’s Pledge.”

She was not aware of funding support from Hobson’s Pledge but said the group of petition organisers was “disjointed” and she could not speak for what others may have received as there had been funding “from many parties”.

Murray-Benge said the meeting was a potential avenue for gaining more signatures for the petition if enough had not already been collected, and if enough had been, the meeting would serve as a “where to from here” gathering.

The petition has about 5000 but these were still being counted. Generally, about 20 per cent of signatures are expected to be invalid due to people signing more than once or signing from outside the local district.

The petition needs 4742 signatures before it can come into effect.

Council electoral officer Warwick Lampp said he anticipated being able to announce petition numbers by the end of the week.

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