Referendum will come, should be decision for Maori

EDITORIAL

The demise of the Maori Party at the 2017 election seems to have removed a game-breaker in the coalition negotiations now finally under way, but the future of the seven Maori electorate seats remains a subject of controversy.

New Zealand First campaigned on a promise to hold a referendum on whether the Maori seats should be abolished, as well as one on reducing the number of MPs across the board.

After the election, however, Peters indicated he has moved back from that in an interview he gave to Australia’s Sky News. His reasoning was that the Maori Party, which he described as a “race-based, origin of race” party, had been smashed.

A referendum on the Maori seats would not be a deal-breaker in talks with National, although the party survived in government for its first two terms thanks to the support of the Maori Party. National used to have a policy itself of a referendum on the Maori seats.

It would be a game-breaker with Labour, however. Jacinda Ardern pledged her party would not agree to one, and in so doing appears to have won the first negotiating round, with Peters seemingly removing it from his wishlist . . . better to have the two main parties at the table, to extract maximum policy gains elsewhere.

The political posturing and outright horse trading will end, hopefully in days not weeks, and there are some who would like to see a reasoned and serious debate on the future of the seats in the next three years.

The original reasons that four Maori seats were established in 1853, when only 100 Maori were entitled to vote, have faded into the mists of history.

Maori are represented in the present Parliament at a level that reflects their actual population percentage and many will argue the system is working for them.

Opponents, however, say that while Maori remain so firmly at the bottom of so many social indicators, there is a need for more Maori in Parliament who will advocate strongly on their behalf.

At some stage the separate seats will no longer be relevant, though. When a referendum is held, it should be for Maori to decide — not the Pakeha majority.

The demise of the Maori Party at the 2017 election seems to have removed a game-breaker in the coalition negotiations now finally under way, but the future of the seven Maori electorate seats remains a subject of controversy.

New Zealand First campaigned on a promise to hold a referendum on whether the Maori seats should be abolished, as well as one on reducing the number of MPs across the board.

After the election, however, Peters indicated he has moved back from that in an interview he gave to Australia’s Sky News. His reasoning was that the Maori Party, which he described as a “race-based, origin of race” party, had been smashed.

A referendum on the Maori seats would not be a deal-breaker in talks with National, although the party survived in government for its first two terms thanks to the support of the Maori Party. National used to have a policy itself of a referendum on the Maori seats.

It would be a game-breaker with Labour, however. Jacinda Ardern pledged her party would not agree to one, and in so doing appears to have won the first negotiating round, with Peters seemingly removing it from his wishlist . . . better to have the two main parties at the table, to extract maximum policy gains elsewhere.

The political posturing and outright horse trading will end, hopefully in days not weeks, and there are some who would like to see a reasoned and serious debate on the future of the seats in the next three years.

The original reasons that four Maori seats were established in 1853, when only 100 Maori were entitled to vote, have faded into the mists of history.

Maori are represented in the present Parliament at a level that reflects their actual population percentage and many will argue the system is working for them.

Opponents, however, say that while Maori remain so firmly at the bottom of so many social indicators, there is a need for more Maori in Parliament who will advocate strongly on their behalf.

At some stage the separate seats will no longer be relevant, though. When a referendum is held, it should be for Maori to decide — not the Pakeha majority.

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Julian Michael Tilley - 2 years ago
John - if a referendum was to be restricted to Maori then what actual criteria do you suggest is used to determine who is Maori and thus eligible to vote in the referendum? Should it be restricted to those registered already on the Maori roll that can vote? That would seem an odd approach as clearly those already on the Maori roll mostly support the idea of Maori seats. The actual number of Maori seats in existence changes and is linked to the number of people on the Maori roll. Any person in NZ can be on the Maori roll if they want to be and identify as being Maori. Should Cook Island Maori in NZ be eligible? Should Pakeha who identify as Maori be eligible? What about those who are unaware of their Maori ancestry? Should an effort be made to locate them? Stats NZ use this criteria - "When asking a question on Maori descent, as with any other question, we must assume that people are in a position to give us accurate information" - Is that good enough to decide who can then vote and who can then decide the future of the Maori seats?

lloyd gretton - 2 years ago
The recent referenda in Kurdistan and Catalonia should give us an indication of the problems of a referendum involving a national group not just ideology. Some say Maori are no longer a national group. But the voters on the Maori voting registry certainly think they are. I personally think as Maori seats have been good enough since 1867, they should be left alone. Some of the most distinguished NZ statesmen have been on them.

Anne Hardman, Wellington - 2 years ago
Common sense, intelligent response Lloyd!

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