Attorney-General says Rotorua bill breaches Bill of Rights Act

The Attorney-General has reported on whether the Rotorua bill ending equality of suffrage breaches the Bill of Rights Act, and has concluded it does. Some extracts:

In a representative democracy, it is important to maintain approximately the same level of representation for everyone. The proposed arrangements in the Bill would make the number of council members for the Māori ward disproportionately higher than the number of council members for the general ward in comparison to their respective populations. As the disadvantaged group is those on the General roll, changing representation arrangements away from proportional representation therefore creates a disadvantage for non-Māori as they cannot in future elect to change rolls.

So the official word is the bill will discriminate against non-Māori.

This proposed arrangement detracts from the key constitutional principle of equal representation in a representative democracy. I consider that there must be strong reasons to depart from this fundamental constitutional principle and, accordingly, to justify the limit on the right to freedom from discrimination. Departures from the Local Electoral Act may also have broader constitutional impacts and need to be carefully considered. Arrangements like these, if replicated across other local bodies could result in significant impacts,  which may be better considered in full by central government and Parliament.

Indeed, a major constitutional change should not be done by way of an obscure local bill.

For the above reasons, I have concluded the Bill appears to limit the right to be free from discrimination affirmed in s 19 of the Bill of Rights Act and cannot be justified under s 5 of that Act.

Of course this advice is not binding. The AG actually voted for the bill at first reading.

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