The petition to force a referendum on a New Plymouth Māori ward has about 40 per cent of the signatures it needs.
Public opinion on the establishment of a Māori ward in New Plymouth appears to be a close-run contest, if petitions on either side of the debate are anything to go by.
In July, the New Plymouth District Council voted to establish a Māori ward ahead of the next election, but within days came a petition trying to send the matter to a referendum.
Under law, Māori wards are the only wards that can be overturned this way.
Forcing a referendum would require signatures from five per cent of electors – about 2874 people – to be handed into council by February 22, 2021.
Councillor Murray Chong, who organised the petition, said he had about 40 per cent of the total needed so far, or about 1149 signatures.
This is 314 fewer than the number of New Plymouth residents who have signed an online counter petition, set up by Rongomou Community Action. While the online petition has 2926 names only half of those, about 1463 signatories, live in the district.
To force a referendum, Chong’s petition must be entirely physical – not online.
“It has to have handwritten signatures with complete full names, as on the electoral roll,” Chong said.
“All we’re doing is leaving it up to the voters of New Plymouth, and I think that’s the most fair way to vote on something.”
Chong said he would like to see more referendums.
“If we had a binding referendum on the Len Lye Centre we wouldn’t have had that go through because 90 per cent of the people didn’t want it.”
Dan Lander, of Rongomou Community Action, said he would like to see the counter-petition at least meet the five-per cent threshold of New Plymouth residents.
Although the petition has no legal standing, Lander said the group was advocating for something they thought would benefit the community at large.
“It’s been really, really positive.”
The group has also been sending out postcards to advocate for Māori wards. About 300 have been sent to mayor Neil Holdom, who had abstained from the voting on the matter in council, and councillors Chong and Richard Jordan, who voted no.
However, they are not targeting any one person, Lander said.
They have also handed out about 1200 postcards to members of the public.