All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Article 1, United Nations Declaration of Human Rights
By Roger Childs
The New Zealand First Leader, who has some Maori blood, rightly points out that the existence of the seven Maori seats is an element of inequality which we should remove.
We do not have special seats for Pacific Island people or citizens of Chinese, Indian, Korean or any other ethnic origin.
When they were first set up in the middle of the 19th century they were only intended to be a temporary expedient to provide representation for Maori people.
Elements of inequality
Four Maori seats were set up 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, only European males who owned, leased or rented property above a certain value had the franchise.
However, from 1893 all men and women who were New Zealand citizens were able to vote regardless of ethnicity or wealth.
1985 Commission recommends abolition
In 1967 Maori 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 seats. This prompted The Royal Commission on the Electoral System in its 1986 Report to recommend abolition of separate representation.
But it didn’t happen. By 2002 the number of designated seats has increased to seven.
Time for equality
Currently we have a situation which is probably in breach of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. People with even the smallest amount of Maori blood have a choice of being on the general or Maori role.
The dedicated seats had a well warranted purpose 150 years ago, but are now well 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.
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.
New Zealand First has many good ideas
The Party is right to promote the abolition of the tokenistic Maori seats and to suggest that the Waitangi Tribunal be wound up.
Excessive immigration, whatever the origin of the migrants, has put plenty of pressure on jobs, housing, incomes and the ability of government services to cope. Consequently a lowered yearly intake is very logical.
Furthermore, their determination to end poisoning the land with 1080 and preserve our environment makes perfect sense.
And few would argue with the concept of reducing the number of MPs. We have far more per head of population than Australia, Britain and Canada.
Winston Peters relishes the role of “Kingmaker” at election time and will probably be in that position come September.
He should be able to bargain with the major parties over the acceptance of NZ First policies.
Hopefully Winston will have the baubles to throw his lot in with the Left.