Time for a referendum on the Maori seats

The Herald reports:

Parliament now has more Maori MPs than ever before, prompting one commentator to question whether Maori seats were still needed.

Nineteen Maori MPs have been elected in general electorates and on party lists. Once the seven Maori seats are included, the total number of MPs who identify as Maori is 26 – up from 21 in 2011.

This means one in five MPs in the new Parliament were Maori, compared to one in seven in the general population.

The National Party’s caucus is 15 per cent Maori, including two MPs likely to be given high-ranking portfolios – Paula Bennett and Hekia Parata.

The growing proportion of Maori in Parliament was met with mixed responses from Maori leaders.

Former Maori Affairs Minister Dover Samuels said increased Maori representation was a step forward, especially because many were elected in mainstream parties.

But former Alliance MP and Maori commentator Willie Jackson said it meant little unless those Maori MPs fought for Maori interests.

“It’s only a victory if they take a pro-Maori position with their work. You could have 50 Maoris in there but if they don’t act like Maori and don’t work along kaupapa Maori lines and advance Maori position it’s absolutely meaningless.”

The election of 26 Maori MPs was likely to fuel the argument over Maori seats, established to ensure Maori had a minimum representation in the House.

Mr Samuels said Maori needed to have an “informed debate” about whether the Maori electorates were needed.

I don’t think it would be helpful for the Maori seats to be abolished without the agreement of Maori. It would generate hostility and division.

However I think retaining them is divisive also. I do not like having separate seats on the basis of race.

I thought the 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral System proposed a worthy alternative to the Maori seats – and that was to have a lower (or no) threshold for Maori parties (in recognition of the fact they were competing within a smaller population base).

The one thing no Parliament has ever done, is allow Maori a say on whether they want to retain the Maori seats. I think it is time we do that.

What I propose is a referendum held among those on the electoral roll of Maori descent. It should ask Maori to choose between:

a) retaining the Maori seats
b) The proposal by the Royal Commission to abolish the seats but have no threshold (effectively 0.4% then) for Maori parties

I favour the Royal Commission’s proposal because it would better recognise the diversity of opinion in Maoridom. The Maori seats mean that in each electorate only one view is represented – the winning party. Under the Royal Commission’s proposal, you may have four or five different Maori parties in Parliament – a right wing Maori party, a socialist Maori party, an environmental Maori party, a religious Maori party etc etc. Maoridom would do better with multiple choices – rather than the winner takes all of the Maori seats.

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