The Local Electoral (Māori Representation) Amendment Bill

No Right Turn alerted me to this private members bill drawn from the ballot. He supports the intent, but not the details of the bill. I have problems with both.

The bill basically forces every city council, district council and regional council to have one or more wards – reserved for voters of descent.

I think such a move would be appalling, and push us towards a Fiji style country, and set back race relations massively.

I also think it shows how dangerous it can be when the debate keeps shifting down this path.

At a national level, we have had the Maori seats since 1867. They were well intentioned, allowing Maori who owned property communally to vote – a right limited then to property owners.

In an ideal world the seats would have been abolished in 1879 when the property requirement was abolished. It is somewhat shameful that up until 1976, Maori were not even allowed to vote on the general roll.

I regard it as a shame that the Royal Commission’s recommendation to abolish the Maori seats (and in exchange have a lower threshold for Maori parties) was not implemented. Have race based seats is just not something that long-term I think is likely to create a more harmonious New Zealand.

However I do generally accept the proposition that regardless of the lack of a principled rationale for race based seats, that trying to unilaterally abolish them would be an act that would in itself be disharmonious and create a huge backlash. There is a huge difference between not creating something, and taking something away. Hence I don’t think it is wise to try and abolish the Maori parliamentary seats, unless one could get widespread agreement from Maori to it.

But having said that, I think it is important that the Maori parliamentary seats be seen as a historic exception, and not the rule. However we are in some danger of ending up there.

In 1998 Tuariki Delamere sponsored a bill to allow the Bay of Plenty Regional Council to create a Maori ward or wards.The argument was that it was only for that one Council which had special needs, and the parliamentary seats was a precedent. And people thought well, why not allow it.

It was not supported by National, but in 2001 Labour passed it as the Bay of Plenty Regional Council (Maori Constituency Empowering) Act 2001.

The exception then became an option for all, and Labour passed the Local Electoral Amendment Act 2002 which allowed any Council to establish Maori wards either on their own initiative or by referendum, which can be  upon petition by 5% of electors.

So a historical anomaly became a one off example in one Council, and then became an option for all Councils.

And it didn’t stop there. The Royal Commission on Auckland recommended that the new Auckland Council have three Maori seats, regardless of whether or not the people of Auckland wanted them. Labour demanded that the Government create Maori seats for Auckland, rather than even leave it to Auckland to decide. So again, the debate shifted from should they even be allowed, to should it be created without consultation.

And then finally we have the Local Electoral (Māori Representation) Amendment Bill by Te Uroroa Flavell, which would impose Maori wards on every council in New Zealand, dividing every single authority up into Maori and non Maori.

Now it is all well intentioned, and supporters will claim the means justify the ends. But again I don’t think we want to end up like Fiji with race dividing voters electorally.

So I fully expect Flavell’s bill to be voted down. No doubt the Greens will vote for it. I suspect Labour would love to vote for it, but they may vote against it on the basis of its flaws (beyond the principled opposition to it). NRT describes these:

Currently councils can establish Māori wards, and if they do, their number is determined by the number of people on the Māori roll in that district. Flavell’s bill would change this to being determined by the number of people of Māori descent. However, voting in those wards would still be limited to the 60% of Māori on the Māori roll. Which means that those wards will be systematically undersized, and those Māori systematically over-represented.

This would be a huge gerrymander. Basically voters in the Maori wards would have twice as much power as those in other wards. NRT also fisks the justification from Flavell:

Flavell’s justification for this change is that

This change is made because 40% of the Māori population is under 18 years and is therefore excluded under the current formula.

But this is simply incorrect. The current formula uses the definitions from the Electoral Act 1993, which specifically includes people under 18. So those people would already be represented (though unable to vote)

Incidentally I believe electorate populations should be based on the adult population, not the total population – but that is a debate for another day.

NRT concludes:

I don’t think this is an attempt at a stitch-up; rather its likely a mistake born of not reading the law closely enough. But the result is a deeply flawed bill. Fortunately, those flaws can be resolved at select committee.

The mistake can be easily resolved. But I don’t think the bill should proceed. Generally I support most bills going to a select committee, but this bill seeks to move in a direction which I so strongly disagree with, that I don’t think it should even get past first reading.

Incidentally under this proposed law, four local authorities would be forced to have the majority of their seats elected from Maori wards. Think about the level of resentment that would cause amongst non-Maori? I don’t mean the resentment would come from having a majority of Maori on a local authority. I, for one, would not care a damn if the majority of Wellington City Council was Maori. I would object though if the majority had been elected from wards which I am banned from being eligible to enrol in, because of my lack of the right genes.

It is a pity that the debate on this bill will now be whether or not Maori seats on Council should be compulsory or voluntary. In fact the debate should be about whether Labour should have ever created them at all in 2001.

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