Mali Ahipene describes her role as Pou Tūhono at Waikato Regional Council.

Tell us about your role at Waikato Regional Council

I’m Pou Tūhono for Waikato Regional Council. A pou refers to a post, upright, support, or pole. These are all objects that are intended to be resolute and unshakeable and thus provide support to other things. Tūhono means to join, bond, attach, or connect. Thus, the Pou Tūhono is a pillar or foundation of connection and collaboration. 

I’ve been with the organisation for 10 years and I’m responsible for the democracy services team who look after the governance of the organisation, the elected members, and the decision-making process around council business.

I also manage Tai-ranga-whenua, our kaupapa Māori focused team. Tai-ranga-whenua provides cross-council advice, guidance and support on iwi and Māori cultural related matters, with an emphasis on building, maintaining and strengthening working relationships with tangata whenua in the region at operational, technical and governance levels. We are also involved in cultural and engagement related activities.

There’s crossover in the work the two teams do, particularly in the Treaty settlement and co-governance space, so there are areas of alignment.

I also get to run the local elections for Waikato Regional Council, so 2022 will be very busy. I have such variety in my role and for that I am grateful.

What does a typical day look like?  

With such variety in my role, I wouldn’t say I have a typical day.

A day can be spent managing a kaupapa Māori focused team operating within a te ao Māori context (kotahitanga, whanaungatanga, manākitanga, kaitiakitanga); working strategically with local iwi on joint projects that are effective and valued by both parties and the wider community; working with staff to increase their ability to work effectively with iwi Māori; providing strategic democracy advice to our elected members; and dealing with and working through politically sensitive situations to deliver short, medium- and long-term goals that will often span numerous council terms.

What is the most challenging part of your role? 

The number of legislative changes and policy directives from central government requiring greater involvement by iwi Māori is growing all the time, including the number of relationships the Council has with iwi, and expectations around that. This means my workload is also growing, along with resource requirements.

There is not yet an established best practice model of how local government agencies practically deliver on meeting our obligations to iwi Māori. The challenge is to build best practice models through a process of innovation and review.

What’s the best part of working in local government?  

It was immediately obvious to me that Waikato Regional Council is progressive in terms of how it works with Māori, and the value placed on iwi relationships. That resonates really strongly with me and always has. The organisation is supportive, and I’m valued as a person. I’m inspired to be the best that I can be. People who work for local government tend to hold particular values. They care for the communities and for the environment. For me, specifically making a difference for Māori and making a difference for communities is important.

Why did you join Taituarā and what do you hope to get out of it?  

I’ve worked in local government for many years now. I’ve been involved in four elections, two representation reviews and the decision to introduce Māori representation at Waikato Regional Council. I initially joined Taituarā to access resources, conferences, webinars and information on this specific topic.

Later I became a member of the Electoral Subcommittee, established to provide advice on local body electoral matters to councils and electoral officers. The group includes representatives from the Ministry of Health, Department of Internal Affairs, Local Government New Zealand, the Electoral Commission, Local Government Commission and New Zealand Post.

By participating in the Electoral Subcommittee, I have gained a wealth of knowledge, and the opportunity to influence across the sector on activities of national importance, for example, the recent Local Electoral (Māori Ward and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill.