by Roger Childs
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” –Article 1, United Nations Declaration of Human Rights
The existence of the seven special seats in our parliament is one of the many elements of inequality favouring Maori which we should remove. We do not have separate seats for different Pacific Island peoples, or New Zealand citizens of Chinese, Indian, Korean, Irish background, or for any other ethnicity.
When they were first set up on the mid-19th century they were only intended to be a temporary expedient to provide some necessary and well justified representation for Maori people. At that time virtually all the Native people had 50% or more Maori blood.
Elements of inequality
Four Maori seats were established by the Maori Representation Act back in 1867. It was well intentioned, but not designed to last indefinitely. From the start there were elements of inequality.
- On a population basis the Maori should have had at least 14 seats.
- Whereas all Maori males could vote if they wished, only European males who owned, leased or rented property above a certain value had the franchise.
However, from 1893 all men and women were able to vote regardless of ethnicity or wealth.
1985 Commission recommends abolition
In 1967 Maori people were allowed to stand in general seats, but it wasn’t until 1975 that National Party candidates Ben Couch and Rex Austin made the breakthrough in winning Wairarapa and Awarua.
In the elections that followed more people with some Maori blood were elected in general electorates. This prompted The Royal Commission on the Electoral System in its 1986 Report to recommend abolition of separate representation.
A very desirable proposition to ensure equality. For a time the National Party had abolishing the seats as a policy plank.
But it didn’t happen. National needed the support of the Maori Party to govern in 2008 and 2011.
Labour have traditionally won most of the Maori seats so there was no way the Party was going to going to carry out the sensible recommendation of the Royal Commission. Political power is more important than equality!
By 2002 the number of designated seats was increased from four to seven – an unjustified move.
Time for equality
Currently we have situation which is probably in breach of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. People with even the minutest, amount of Maori blood have a choice of being on the general or Maori roll. Other citizens have no choice and are only allowed on the electoral roll of the constituency in which they live.
The existing Maori electorates are huge: Te Tai Tonga covers the whole of the South Island, making it impossible for the elected member, Rino Tirikatene, to regularly keep in contact with his constituents. One wonders what he actually does in trying to get round the voters in such a massive area.
The dedicated seats for Maori had a well-warranted purpose 150 years ago, but are now decades past their used-by date. There are many Maori MPs in the general seats these days and if Party leaders feels there should be more, they can adjust their party lists accordingly.
In the present parliament there are in fact 25 MPs with some Maori blood — this is about 21% of the 120 seats in our House of Representatives. Maori, or correctly part-Maori, make up about 17% of the population, so clearly there is no argument for Maori being inadequately represented.
The reality in 2022 is that part-Maori people are over-represented in the New Zealand Parliament. It’s time for us to get in line with Article 1 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights in the interests of all citizens.