Māori Electoral Roll members should decide the future of Māori seats

Winston Peters decided to put the boot into the Māori electoral seats, says columnist Dennis Ngawhare.


Winston Peters decided to put the boot into the Māori electoral seats, says columnist Dennis Ngawhare.

Māori issues are an easy political football during election campaigns.

This year, Mr Winston Peters decided to put the boot into the Māori electoral seats by demanding a binding referendum for New Zealand First’s support in potentially forming a government. This is an example of Trumpian deficit policy and is perhaps an attempt at retribution on Māori for the waka jumping MPs of New Zealand First. 

In 1996 New Zealand First won the Māori seats and helped National form a government. The 1998 leadership coup that deposed Prime Minister Jim Bolger then split New Zealand First when their Māori MPs broke ranks and propped up the government.

Placed in that context, this policy decision by Mr Peters looks increasingly like revenge and will attract voters who hold negative stereotypes of Māori. 

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Regardless of opinion, the history of the Māori electorates demonstrates both positive and negative values. Although they were initially used to limit Māori participation, the seats then became the primary means through which Māori were involved in the parliamentary system until the introduction of MMP.

In 1852 the New Zealand Constitution Act barred Māori from voting and holding positions in the newly-minted government. The clever colonists of the time ensured they retained power in government by legislating votes for men who owned land, effectively shutting Māori and women out. 

It wasn’t until the 1867 Māori Representation Act when the four Māori seats of northern, southern, eastern and western Maori were created that Māori entered parliament.

Although the general electoral seats increased with the population, the four Māori seats remained static for 129 years.

Outside of the Māori seats it was relatively rare that Māori were voted into general seats and Māori MPs had to work within the system to enable and empower Māori. 

Mete Paetahi, of Whanganui, was the first Member of Parliament for Western Māori when he was elected in 1868. At that time Taranaki fell within the Western Māori electorate which stretched from South Auckland through Waikato, the King Country, Taranaki, Whanganui, Manawatu, Horowhenua and to Wellington. 

In 1911 Dr Maui Pomare was voted into office through the combined support of Tainui and Taranaki. Sir Maui Pomare and Sir Peter Buck (both from Taranaki) were perhaps two of the greatest Māori MPs to sit in parliament, and along with Sir Apirana Ngata and Sir Turi Carroll had immense influence on Māori development in the early twentieth century.

Pomare worked to ensure justice for the land confiscations of the previous century and perhaps one of his greatest achievements was in the Sims Royal Commission of 1927 that found the 1860s Land Wars were wrong and land confiscations were unjustified.

It would take 90 years before settlements were finalised and restitution made to the affected iwi of Taranaki.

Regardless of who holds the Tai Hauāuru electorate, or to which party they belong, the responsibility of that Member of Parliament is to advance and preserve the interests of all iwi, hapū and Maori in their electorate. Irrespective of party politics it is expected that the Maori MPs be able to work together. 

Without the Maori electorates there are no guarantees that the parties would represent Māori.

The people who complain of Māori privilege and race-based policies tend to overlook how regulated Māori society still is. All of our marae fall under the Te Ture Whenua Māori Act and the Māori Land Court  has final authority over the marae committees, not the iwi or hapū.

Māori kaitiakitanga (guardianship) of the land is severely restricted by the Resource Management Act and recent treaty settlements were negotiated by organisations developed under crown dictated processes.

The political battle for equity and self determination has never really ended for Māori.

It’s almost like Māori are invited to participate in the game half an hour before kick-off, there aren’t any uniforms, the team is playing in jandals and the footy field is on a hill and the Māori side are playing uphill for 80 minutes. The referee is the coach from the other side, he is making up the rules and has given a 20 point advantage to his own team. 

If a binding referendum of all enrolled voters was held tomorrow, I have no doubt the result would mirror the Māori ward referendum in the New Plymouth District. As far as I’m concerned the Maori Ward vote was a perfect illustration of the tyranny of the majority.

If the Māori electorates were removed it would take away a guaranteed voice for Māori in parliament and would reinstate colonial paternalism. There may come a time when those seats are no longer needed, but that time is not now and the issue should not be used for political gain.

Only voters enrolled on the Māori Electoral Roll should decide the future of the Māori seats.

 – Taranaki Daily News