by Corina Shields on the BFD

It would be foolish of me to write this without acknowledging this subject is one that has the potential to upset some Maori and, hopefully, the government and their friends. But nonetheless, it is one I feel strongly about, so if it means dealing with people’s ill-perceived notions of who I am as a person so be it. All I ask is that people at least read what I have to say before forming a judgement about me. 

To get to the point, I need to provide some of my own back-story. At eighteen, I did what a lot of people do. I enrolled to vote and spent the next twenty years not knowing or caring who I was voting for. I just did the same thing as my parents. And for me, that meant going on the Maori roll and voting Labour. 

In 2017, I was slightly overjoyed to see the back end of National but that was shortlived as Labour proved to over-promise and under deliver. 

In 2018, Jacinda made, what I think was one of the most condescending speeches towards Maori when she uttered the following words when speaking about issues to do with Maori-

“Ask us how we have given dignity back to your whanau.”

Before you say to yourself, ‘…but Jacinda was only trying to ask for accountability!’ think about this: Is it right for the Prime Minister to think they hold anyone’s dignity? Is it right for a government to take such a patronising position on 16% or so of the population, on whose land they formed the government?

For me, it was an insult for anyone, let alone the Prime Minister to think they hold anyone’s dignity or that people should ask a government how they gave it back to them, and so in the 2020 election, being politically homeless, I wasted my vote on an independent candidate. A move I knew wouldn’t amount to much but it at least would stop people saying, “You can’t complain because you didn’t vote.”

After watching the chaos that has taken place in New Zealand since Labour’s Covid-wave victory in the 2020 election, I decided I couldn’t let another vote go to waste, so I started educating myself on politics and how best to use my vote. It has been quite a journey and one I’m grateful to be on because it allows me to share what I’ve learned with others who find themselves in a similar situation and what I’ve discovered is this- 

Maori have been sold a lie when it comes to what the Maori roll and a Maori seat MP represent. 

In November 2022 the government passed their final reading on the Maori roll option. Had this law not come into effect the next option for change wouldn’t have occured until 2024, after this year’s election. However, the new law which came into effect on 31 March 2023, means Maori can now change what roll they’re on until three months before a general election. That means until 14 July 2023 people can make the switch from Maori to general and vice versa for this year’s election.

It’s clear this was a move done intentionally to capture the Maori vote once the government realised there was no way they were going to get the youth vote across the line by having the voting age lowered to 16. If you’ve taken notice lately you’ll see there is a big push to get people to cross over to the Maori roll.

The unfortunate thing about this law change is it has been packaged to make it appear like it is a good thing for Maori and that they’ve given Maori back their ‘power’ and ‘voice’ by giving them the chance to change rolls when they want. 

The reality though is they’ve left out some really important details about what being on the Maori roll means.

What they’ve neglected to tell Maori is that traditionally only the Left-leaning parties (Labour, Te Pati Maori, Greens) and independents tend to be the ones who stand Maori seat candidates. National are standing two this year but this is a shallow effort by a party whose leader doesn’t see value in the Maori seats and it hasn’t stood anyone in these seats for around twenty years.

Another important fact they’ve left out is that there is no difference in requirements for a General seat candidate and a Maori seat candidate so if people think by being on the Maori roll they will get a Maori representative or one who speaks Maori this isn’t necessarily true. After checking the candidate guidebook for myself and not finding any requirement on Maori seat candidates, I called the elections helpline number to ask about it, only to be told the same thing. There is no difference in requirements between General and Maori seat candidates. Further investigation reveals this ‘rule’ has been in place since 1967.

What also isn’t widely known is just how thinly Maori MPs are spread across their electorate. Where a General seat MP has one electorate, each Maori seat MP has an area that contains between 5 and 18 general electorates. There are 72 electorates in total. 65 general and 7 Maori. That means 7 Maori MPs have to serve the same area as 65 General MPs. That seems unfair to both the Maori MPs and Maori voters who have been led to believe that being on the Maori roll empowers them and gives them representation. The way I see it is, it gives Maori less representation because our choices are severely limited in the first place and Maori MPs are required to serve far more areas. If they become Ministers it means their time is even more limited as they juggle those portfolios as well. 

Attempts have been made to do away with Maori seats in the past. Obviously they ha ve been to no avail because we still have them. Which is another reason for the big push to get people on the Maori roll and do the census because the Maori roll option and the census are how the number of Maori seats are determined in election cycles.

As a traditional Labour supporter in the past and one who has taken this Labour government and their ministries to task on different matters over the last few years (state housing, Covid, education to name a few) it strikes me as odd that a government that claims to care about Maori, neglects important facts in order to squash more of us into a box that doesn’t fit us.

For far too long, the narrative portrayed by those on the Left and in the media is that Maori are victims of the system and yet the Left continue to be the ones who perpetuate the victim mentality by limiting Maori with nonsense narratives.

If those on the Left truly cared about co-governance and Maori, they would stand on their merits by getting rid of the Maori seats and the limited choices available to Maori and have the courage to stand against their general electorate counterparts and so prove to Maori and themselves that they have the skills and not just the right skin tone to get issues fixed that desperately need fixing. 

If there are two things I want those on the Maori roll to know it is this-

• When so many of us aren’t just Maori, why should we stay on a roll that severely limits our options? 

• You don’t need to be Maori to care about Maori or issues that affect Maori. I have met and talked to some amazing non-Maori who have given me more connection to my whenua than my own people and are far more knowledgeable about what is truly affecting Maori because of their own life experiences.

And so for me, I have decided to use the government’s law change and remove myself from the Maori roll so that I can vote for people and a party that better align with my own values. And what aligns better with me is the right to choose who to vote for based on what my values are and not just because “I’m Maori”.