My submission on the Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill

A copy of my submission against the bill is below.

Please take time to do your own submission. It is really really important that this law not proceed.

You can submit here, or use a template at Protect Your Vote. The latter option is very quick as you can just edit a standard submission against. If possible please ask to be heard, as the more people who want to be heard will make it harder for the Government to ram it through Parliament quickly. Submissions close on Wednesday.

SUBMISSION OF THE
ROTORUA DISTRICT COUNCIL (REPRESENTATION ARRANGEMENTS) BILL TO THE MĀORI AFFAIRS COMMITTEE

About the Submitter

  1. This submission is made by David Farrar in a personal capacity. I would like to appear before the Committee to speak to my submission.

The overall Bill

  1. I submit that the bill should not proceed as to breaches the fundamental human right of equality of suffrage.

Equality of Suffrage

  1. This bill, if passed, would end equality of suffrage for body elections in Rotorua. It would amend the Local 2001 which requires wards to have, within a certain tolerance, the same electoral population per Councillor.
  2. This bill would give the Māori ward three Councillors for an electoral population of 21,700 and the General ward three Councillors for an electoral population of 55,600. This means the vote of someone on the general roll will be worth only 39% of the vote of someone on the Māori roll in terms of Ward Councillors, and 58% in terms of the whole Council. That breaches equality of suffrage.
  3. When Kate Sheppard campaigned to give women the vote in 1893, she wasn’t just campaigning for universal suffrage, but also equal suffrage. She would not have been happy with a law which told women they can vote, but their votes will be worth only 39% of the vote of a man.
  4. Incidentally women ratepayers actually gained the right to vote in body elections in 1873, so this bill would undo 149 years of equal suffrage for women in local body elections, as women (and men) on the general roll in Rotorua will have their votes count for less than men (and women) on the Māori roll.
  5. I quote Kate Shepperd who said “All that separates, whether of race, class, creed, or sex, is inhuman, and must be overcome”
  6. Equality of suffrage is regarded as a fundamental and universal human right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 21(3) states “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures. New Zealand voted for this declaration on 10 December 1948.
  7. Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also states “Every citizen shall have the right … To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage …”
  8. Also the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 Cl 12 states “Every New Zealand citizen … has the right to vote in genuine periodic elections of members of the House of Representatives, which elections shall be by equal suffrage and by secret ballot”
  9. Again this bill eliminates equal suffrage in Rotorua, and is inconsistent with the spirit of both international and domestic human rights law.

The bill is not needed to have three Māori Ward Councillors

  1. When this bill was put forward, the Rotorua District Council said that it was a choice between the model in the bill and their backup option of 1 Māori Ward Councillor, 1 General Ward Councillor and eight At Large Councillors. They said these was a strong desire for Māori to have three Māori Ward Councillors.
  2. This is now the case, without this bill. The Government Commission has determined that the structure of the Council shall be three Māori Ward Councillors, six General Ward Councillors and one Rural General Ward Councillor. So this bill is not needed to have three Māori Ward Councillors.
  3. The only impact of this bill now, would not be to increase the number of Māori Ward Councillors, but to reduce the number of General Ward Councillors so that residents on the General Roll have less power than their share of the population. It is a bill to remove equality of suffrage from 72% of Rotorua’s residents.
  4. The Government Commission decision is, in my opinion, an excellent one that reflects the desire of the community to have more than one Māori Ward Councillor, but does it in a way that preserves equality of suffrage.
  5. My view on the good job done by the Government Commission appears to be shared by Te Tatau o Te Arawa whose Chief Executive was described as “effusive” and “very happy” with the decision.
  6. Te Tatau o Te Arawa in their submission to the Government Commission said they wanted to maximise seats at the Council table, rather than maximise the number of candidates people on the Māori roll could vote for. They also said the emphasis on “parity of voting” was not something emphasized during the consultation period.
  7. The representation arrangements set by the Government Commission should be left alone, and not over-ridden by Parliament.

    A major constitutional change should only be done after the community has had a lengthy debate, and vote.
  8. This bill will end equality of suffrage on Rotorua for body elections. This represents a major constitutional change for New Zealand, as it will set a precedent for other Councils, and for the House of Representatives.
  9. It would be constitutionally repugnant to ram through a major constitutional change through Parliament with a badly publicized two week submission period. If Parliament wants to change New Zealand away from equal suffrage, then this should be subject to lengthy and widespread consultation, and a referendum.
  10. A change away from equal suffrage is just as significant (arguably more so) than the change from FPP to MMP. Reducing the power of a group of citizens and residents so their votes are worth 39% or 59% of the votes of other citizens or residents in a rarity on democratic countries. The most pertinent example was Fiji whose 1990 constitution gave Indian Fijians just 69% the voting power of indigenous Fijians.
  11. To set the precedent that equality of suffrage is no longer needed for local elections on the basis of a two week submission period (including Easter so only eight working days) should be inconceivable.
  12. As Te Tatau o Te Arawa pointed out, this model was not explicitly canvassed during the submission period. 72% of Rotorua’s residents would have their equality of their votes downgraded, without an opportunity for them to have been meaningfully consulted, let alone voted on by them.
  13. If Parliament wants to get rid of equal suffrage, then I would expect, at a minimum, a consultation period of 12 – 24 months followed by a referendum. I can’t imagine a worse way to proceed than an obscure local bill which has only eight working days available for submissions.

    The need for social cohesion
  14. Countries need high levels of social cohesion to prosper. This includes acceptance of election results as being broadly fair.
  15. If a segment of society loses equal suffrage and has reduced voting power, then this will greatly damage social cohesion.
  16. Proceeding with this bill, especially given the lack of consultation, will irrevocably damage social cohesion in New Zealand. Please do not do it.

Thank you for considering this submission. I would like to make an oral submission in support, and look forward to appearing.

David Farrar

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